Greater Des Moines businessmen and land developers Bill Knapp and Jim Cownie have placed 400 acres of land along the Raccoon River into a conservation easement as part of a broad effort by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation to improve water quality.
Knapp and Cownie are partners in Raccoon River Land Co., which owns nearly 2,000 acres on the south side of the Raccoon River in Dallas County. The area is considered prime development ground and is distinguished by bluffs and forests. Knapp Properties Inc. has been working with federal, state and local governments for three years to build a bridge over the river that would link the 105th Street/Alice's Road corridor to the property. The bridge has been approved, Knapp said.
It would be located near the conservation area, the majority of which is bottom ground that has been farmed in the past, said Knapp Properties Chairman and CEO Bill Knapp II. A smaller section of the conservation area is old growth timber.
Although the conservation easement would allow Knapp and Cownie to continue some land use practices on the 400 acres, development is not among those uses. Most of the land is in the Raccoon River flood plain.
The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation has worked with Knapp since 1999 and Cownie after he joined the Raccoon River land partnership to protect the 400 acres as part of the conservation organization's Raccoon River Bluff project, an area in West Des Moines that stretches along 3.5 miles of the Raccoon River near Booneville and that will eventually connect to Des Moines.
Raccoon River Land Co. holdings would account for the majority of that stretch, but the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is talking with other landowners in the area in hopes of enhancing water quality and protecting wildlife and wetlands.
"The Raccoon River is one of the primary drinking water sources for the largest metropolitan region in Iowa, and its protection is critical for water quality," according to a news release. "Des Moines has the largest known nitrate removal plant in the country because of the excessive nitrogen in the drinking water due to intensive land use changes in the watershed."
Wells Fargo & Co. has contributed $100,000 to the Raccoon River Bluff project. Next week, Wells Fargo volunteers will begin planting trees on the land Knapp and Cownie placed into the conservation easement.