Preserving Historic Blood Run

Posted March 6, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Blood Run Map.jpg

While South Dakota recently made great strides toward the preservation of the Blood Run National Historic Landmark area on their side of the Big Sioux River, Iowa continues struggling to convince its legislators and populace the importance of preserving and promoting a significant part of northwest Iowa’s history on the Iowa side. The more than 3000-acre national landmark consists of the Blood Run archaeological site in Lyon County, Iowa, and the Rock Island archaeological site in Lincoln County, S.D.

While South Dakota is far from achieving its long-term goal of turning the area into a major educational tourist attraction, a campaign to raise $2 million from private donors is well underway and being widely promoted in that state. Additionally, efforts are being made to make the preservation of the Blood Run/Rock Island site on both sides of the Big Sioux River a joint project with Iowa.

To give officials, historical society members, Lyon County Riverboat Foundation board members and other interested residents in Lyon County an idea of what is transpiring across the river, Dick Brown, a development director with the South Dakota Parks & Wildlife Foundation, and Jeff Scherschligt, past president of the foundation, conducted an informational meeting in Rock Rapids Monday, Feb. 25.

The designation of the Blood Run site as a national historic landmark in 1975 prompted the State of South Dakota and private individuals to begin an effort to secure some of the 1,200 acres on the South Dakota side of the river for public ownership. At the same time, purchasing land on the Iowa side was also under consideration and, in 1987, the State Historical Society of Iowa purchased 187 acres of the core site on the Iowa side, which is maintained by the Lyon County Conservation Board. Hunters must call the conservation office to obtain permission before hunting on the land, and guided tours can be set up by calling 712-472-2217.

In 1996, the first purchase of 205 acres was made across the river by the State of South Dakota. By August 1999, the National Parks Service determined Blood Run met criteria for inclusion in the National Park System, although designation as a national park never materialized. At that time, talk surfaced regarding partnership arrangements between the two states for the “preservation, protection and interpretation” of the Blood Run site, but National Parks Services’ management costs estimate for a national park, plus other expenses involved in purchasing land, archaeological research, etc., were daunting.

Although nothing major was accomplished for the next several years, interested groups on both sides of the Big Sioux continued efforts to educate the public about the area and its importance.

In 2011 a Master Plan was commissioned by the State of South Dakota. Numerous meetings were conducted and an in-depth survey was taken to receive public input. Information obtained was compiled and used to develop a Master Plan for the Blood Run area in Lincoln County, S.D.

An additional 324 acres on the South Dakota side was purchased that year by a group of investors known as Perservation Pioneers. That purchase revived the vision of a state park at the site.

Another step was taken when Senate Bill 186 was introduced into the South Dakota Legislature proposing the creation of a 600-acre area at Blood Run in Lincoln County as Good Earth State Park. In November 2012, Gov. Dauguaard asked the South Dakota Department of Tribal Relations to gather input from tribes regarding the naming of the state park. Criteria for the name choice was that it be respectful of tribes, translatable into English, and be capable of opening the park to interpretation.

“Native Americans have been part of it and they want to assure it remains sacred ground. They want a state park,” said Brown.

The South Dakota Senate recently passed the bill, which is now before that state’s House of Representatives for consideration.

Blood Run also being

address in Iowa

Meanwhile, in Lyon County, a grant from the Lyon County Riverboat Foundation to the Lyon County Historical Society facilitated the presentation of educational materials about Blood Run to area students and the general public this past fall. An informative and interesting website devoted to information about Blood Run was also developed. The website ( was made possible by a Lyon County Riverboat Foundation matching grant to the Lyon County Historical Society in partnership with the University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist and with cooperation from the National Park Service, State Historical Society of Iowa, Lyon County Conservation Board, and the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks.

Historical Society members also met last fall with members of the Iowa Sate Preserves advisory board at Gitchie Manitou State Preserve, part of which is included in the Blood Run Historical Landmark area in the far northwest corner of Lyon County, to discuss a management plan for that historical site.

According to the State Historical Society of Iowa website, the State of Iowa “is committed to preservation of the Blood Run site. There is no row cropping on the Iowa state-owned acres of Blood Run. About 15 of the 230 acres are enrolled in the USDA Conservation Reserve Program, with the remaining acres restored to prairie. To preserve the entire Blood Run site and its ‘visual environment’ would require protection of approximately 2,340 acres in Iowa and approximately 1,000 acres in South Dakota. Landscape and cultural resources preservation on this scale is a major long-term challenge that will require cooperation of various county and state agencies, interested tribes, and the many private landowners involved. Unfortunately, there remain economically desirable sand and gravel deposits underneath portions of the Blood Run archaeological deposits; destruction from quarrying and other sorts of modern development is thus a very real threat to this locally important and nationally significant site.”

Those concerns have Iowa officials cautiously moving ahead, meaning progress is likely not to be by leaps and bounds, but a slow progression toward a final goal acceptable to both Iowa and South Dakota.

In a phone conversation, Iowa District 1 Sen. David Johnson said he serves as a member of the Natural Resources and Environment Committee and has spoken to them about Blood Run. In addition, he said, “Iowa Department of Natural Resources director, Chuck Gibb, came before the committee and that department and Gov. Brandstad are fully aware of the importance of Blood Run. Gibb said something to the effect that we don’t get this opportunity but once.”

Johnson said state legislators need more education as to the site’s importance. He believes “we are at a crossroads and this is the closest we have ever come to taking major steps. Should Iowa and South Dakota succeed in their efforts to protect and develop both sides of the Landmark, the result would be the first multi-state State Park in the country.”