Chapter 14 – Neshnala’s Saga: 1920s

With the goal of getting rid of the money-losing Falls operation, Iver Hubbard commissioned a detailed inventory of the potential commercial value of the timber in the Neshnala Grove – his question, of course, was: Could the land be sold for any kind of decent profit?

The report he got was that most of it could, indeed, be cut down for pulp, and that there were also some stands of hardwoods that could be logged for construction or fine furniture use, with a total value of around $2.5 million.

However, the other side of that coin was that it would cost at least $1.6 or $1.7 million to get access to the timber, to log it and to ship it to the pulp and saw mills hundreds of miles away in Wisconsin – in other words, from an economic standpoint logging the Neshnala Grove was not very cost effective, which meant, in turn, the land itself was pretty much commercially worthless.

So, Hubbard and his cousin, Darwin Lester, who also happened to be a member of the Iowa House of Representatives from Lee’s Landing, hatched a plot. Using only the part of the report that said the Neshnala Grove was worth “at least $2.5 million,” Hubbard and Lester in effect blackmailed the state with an ultimatum: The Hubbard’s were willing to wait two years to sell the “valuable” Neshnala Grove, with no assurances of protection for Iowa’s Oldest Tree, or would donate the land to the state if they would take it and make it into a park of some kind.

It actually took nearly three years to work out all the kinks – including that the state demanded that Hubbard pay for demolishing the dilapidated hotel, which they didn’t want – but in 1928, at not quite nine-hundred acres, Five Falls became Iowa’s third state park.

It was the government’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1930s that cut the switchback hiking trail up the side of the bluff and built an access road from County Line Road leading into the north half of the park and to the Neshnala Grove. Once the great tree became more easily accessible, it didn’t take long for the state to have to add a fence around its base to prevent thoughtless morons from carving their initials in its flanks.

The first campground was added below the bluff in the early-50s; the second in the mid-70s; the boat landing on the Mississippi River came in the early-80s, after the state negotiated an access right-of-way across the Grand Island Railroad tracks.

Over the decades the state would acquire, either by purchase or donation, additional parcels of adjacent land, so that by the time Ro Delahanty was camping there with her family in the late-80s, Five Falls State Park encompassed over twelve-hundred acres.

It was in the late-60s that Fort Armstrong County established its Conservation Commission; one of its first projects was to buy nearly twelve hundred-acres of timberland next to the state park, calling it the Great River Forest Preserve. Like the state park, it had picnic areas and hiking and equestrian trails, but no campground.

The more than fifteen miles of trails through the woodlands of the side-by-side preserves would become one of Ro’s favorite places to run – the visits always included a stop to pay her respects to Neshnala

To be continued…

(C) 2018 Dave Lager