Public-Private Partnerships Enhancing Public Lands Access and Use

2016 - Gypsum City Off-Highway Vehicle Park - Iowa

ATVs on the trail at Gypsum City OHV Park

Development of an 800-acre riding area for recreational vehicles including campground construction, park and trail signs, habitat restoration, and landscape plantings.

The Gypsum City Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Park is the largest public riding area in Iowa and will serve as the "premier" riding opportunity for all ability levels. Over $5.5 million dollars has been invested in the facility during the last ten years.

Located southwest of the City of Fort Dodge in Webster County, Iowa, the Park serves as a destination for All Terrain Vehicles (ATV), Off Highway Motorcycles (OHM), Off Road Vehicles (ORV) and snowmobile riders as well as other outdoor enthusiasts from across Iowa and the Midwest. This park, currently 800 acres, is located in the center of thousands of acres of properties currently and formerly used for gypsum mining and production of gypsum related products.

Vehicular access to the area is facilitated by County Road P59 that connects to four-lane Highway 20, located one mile south of the site. The site is conveniently accessible to more than Fort Dodge and Webster County residents. Fort Dodge is the closest population center, with the 2010 Census reporting 25,206 persons. Webster County population is 38,013.

The Park is a partnership among the Iowa DNR, Webster County Improvement Corporation (WCIC), Webster County Conservation Board, and the City of Fort Dodge. WCIC owns and leases the property for the OHV Park. Their mission, as a S01.c.3 nonprofit corporation, is to provide recreation facilities, assist with urban renewal, clean up and beautify the County, prevent community deterioration, improve the environment, and preserve the County's natural resources.

The Webster County Conservation Board has completed agreements with the Iowa DNR to manage the park, construct a campground, and provide some limited law enforcement. Funds for staffing and management are provided by the DNR, through the State ATV registrations and through the County General Fund.

The Park is recognized as a unique and significant attraction for the State of Iowa. This was affirmed in the recognition of Hamilton-Webster Counties as a 2010 Iowa Great Place, a competitive state program that recognizes unique and special people, places, and experiences.

Map showing the extensive network of trails at the Gypsum City OHV Park

Map showing the extensive network of trails at the Gypsum City OHV Park

The Park is part of a state-wide network, comprised of eight OHV Parks throughout the state. Gypsum City is the largest riding area in Iowa. It will also be the most unique riding experience, due to the variety of terrain in the park. The Park is located in an area that is predominantly mined.

The land is no longer suitable for urban development and has few possible uses. Local legislators (Miller & Beall) worked with the Iowa Legislature and local gypsum mining companies to change Iowa's liability laws so the mined lands could be donated for off-road riding and provide liability exemptions for the mining companies. Its diverse topography and natural landscape of open fields, rolling hills, and challenging cliffs is attractive to motorized vehicle use.

The Park has been "in the works" since 2000. Phase I opened to the public in 2006 and Phase 2 opened in 2014. Phase 3 opened in 2015 and the campground is scheduled to open summer of 2016. Over this time much effort has gone into developing a Master Plan, acquiring land donations, planning and developing trails, installing perimeter fencing and other access controls. Work has also included constructing shelters, establishing a maintenance building, creating agreements between the mining companies and the city, county and state government bodies, designing a modem campground, restrooms, and securing funding to support these efforts.

Approximately 15 miles of trails run through rolling hills and open grassland and trees in Phase I. A 1.5-mile long motocross course, a safety training area, two youth riding areas, and a parking area for 350 vehicles with trailers are also part of Phase I. Phase 2 is approximately 500 acres in size and consists of an additional 35 miles of trails and several day use areas such as fishing ponds. Trail construction in Phase 2 is complete and was officially opened to the public on September 19, 2014.

The trail construction was completed by Trails Unlimited, a division of the U.S. Forest Service. Improvements include site grading, construction of 33 campsites with water and 50-amp electric service, site lighting, rock roads and camp pads, site amenities, and interior water lines.

The last phase that is currently available for trail development is 80 acres in size. Perimeter fencing was constructed as a requirement from the adjacent gypsum companies since active mining is still taking place around the park. The additional 10 miles of trails were also designed and built by Trails Unlimited in 2015.

The Federal Recreation Trails Program has contributed nearly half of the funds to create this destination park. The development has occurred in stages with state registration funds and state and federal trail grants. The grants often cover multiple projects that take different timeframes and steps to complete and close the projects.

Additional acres may become available as mining property is reclaimed. The local park oversight committee has worked closely with the Webster County Improvement Corporation, City of Fort Dodge, Webster County, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Department of Transportation, Fort Dodge Convention & Visitors Bureau, Iowa OHV Association, Iowa Legislature, National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, Trails Unlimited, and three local gypsum companies to make this park an off-road, multi-use destination for the citizens and visitors of Iowa. The collaborative spirit, diverse partners, and variety of funding sources have been the keys to success for the Park.

At the awards ceremony (L to R): Dennis Plautz, Marianne Fowler, Dan Kleen, Matt Cosgrove, Iowa State Rep. Helen Miller, and Barbara McCann, Office of the Secretary, USDOT

At the awards ceremony (L to R): Dennis Plautz, Marianne Fowler, Dan Kleen, Matt Cosgrove, Iowa State Rep. Helen Miller, and Barbara McCann, Office of the Secretary, USDOT


More winners of this award

2017: Mountains-to-Sea State Trail/Fonta Flora State Trail Connector - North Carolina

2015: Montana OHV Trail Maintenance - Montana

2018: McPhee Overlook Trail - Colorado