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Nick Schmalen of the Osceola County Conservation Board stands in front of the newly designated Devil’s Ridge Spengler Memorial Wildlife Management Area in rural Osceola County. (BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE)

A fitting tribute: Spengler honored posthumously with renamed land

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Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

OCHEYEDAN, Iowa — Earlier this week, the Osceola County Conservation Board erected a new sign in a parking lot that overlooks 160 acres of prairie grasses that are home to an abundance of wildlife near Ocheyedan.

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The land was recently renamed the Devil’s Ridge Spengler Memorial Wildlife Management Area in memory of former Osceola County Conservation Board Director Ron Spengler, who died Aug. 17. Spengler had served as director of the conservation agency from 1978 until his retirement in June 2010.

“Ron had dedicated 31 years of his life to providing natural resource opportunities and education to the people of Osceola County,” said Nick Schmalen, who became director of the OCCB following Spengler’s retirement. “It was only fitting to honor his legacy by doing something like this.”

While Schmalen worked with Spengler for just three months, he quickly realized Spengler’s enthusiasm for conservation work in Osceola County.

“In the short time we did work together, it was pretty apparent that he loved what he did,” Schmalen said.

After Spengler’s death, the five-member conservation board and three full-time staff members unanimously approved the renaming of Devil’s Ridge to honor their former cohort.

Spengler’s family, which includes wife Kathy, son Daniel and daughter Jenni, issued a statement that read: “We are so thankful to have them rename such a special place in honor of my dad. It is a place we have always enjoyed, and we’ll always remember the wonderful things he did to help Osceola County.”

Devil’s Ridge was acquired by the OCCB in 1987 with 75 percent cost-share from the Iowa State Wildlife Habitat Stamp grant program with the intent of establishing a prairie preserve. Prior to establishing it as public land, it had been privately owned and used for production agriculture and pasture.

“It’s been called the roughest piece of ground in Osceola County,” Schmalen said of the quarter section. “It has historical significance because it displays remnants of what was the Wisconsin glacier.”

Comprised of both kame and kettle topography — sandy hills and land depressions —the site also includes what is believed to have been a buffalo jump used by the Native Americans. 

Portions of the land are still virgin prairie. Less than one-tenth of one percent of virgin prairie remains in Iowa.

In addition to prairie grasses like big and little bluestem, side-oats grama and prairie dropseed, the land also features a variety of prairie flowers that bloom throughout the spring, summer and fall. Schmalen said several varieties of coneflower, as well as lead plant and prairie cordgrass can be found throughout the wildlife management area.

While predominantly used for public hunting, Devil’s Ridge is also utilized by hikers, trappers and bird watching. People can view the land through photos, as well as a video featuring Spengler, at www.watchablewildlifenwia.org, then clicking on Osceola County and Devil’s Ridge. Or, to see the site in person, take Iowa 9 west of Ocheyedan to Taft Avenue, and then go north on Taft Avenue for one-half mile. A parking area is located on the west side of the road.

Devil’s Ridge Spengler Memorial Wildlife Management Area is one of 44 parcels (2,000 acres) maintained by the Osceola County Conservation Board. Schmalen said it is one of the top preserves for use by hunters in the county. The parcel is home to white-tailed deer, pheasants, numerous song birds, waterfowl and small fur-bearing animals.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

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