ACKLEY, Iowa — Jeff Hesnard is an 18-year Delivery Specialist for Landus, an avid lifelong camper, and a Board member of the Prairie Bridges Park in Ackley, Iowa. For eighteen years, Hesnard has been camping at the park he now helps manage.
“They keep me on the board because I’m the ‘old guy’ now,” he joked.
For a small town, the Prairie Bridges Park and Campgrounds is vital to keeping the local economy thriving during the warmer months. Every summer and especially during the weekend of the annual Prairie Bridges Park Fest in August, businesses in the immediate area see a 35-40 percent increase in business. Stores like Casey’s, Dollar General, the Ackley Country Club golf course, and other small businesses, are recipients of this boost in sales. Not only does this jump in sales link directly to the park’s events and presence, but it provides hard evidence that investments in recreational activities keep local communities viable. That’s why, when Jeff and his board saw the opportunity to take ownership of the Landus agronomy plant land parcel in Ackley, they started planning to acquire the land.
The park was founded in the early 90s and had about ten campsites then. Today, the family friendly park offers 140 campsites, three miles of hiking and golf cart trails, playgrounds, game courts, 100+ acres of scenic prairie views, and so much more.
Every year the Prairie Bridges campground hosts the “Prairie Bridges Park Fest.” The festival is hosted every August to help raise money for the park. Full of family-friendly activities, it includes lip-synch battles, cardboard boat races, as well as an Amazing Race themed scavenger hunt that takes participants throughout the park's beautiful prairie landscapes.
“We have a really strong executive board,” said Hesnard. He said they’ve been growing every year and it wouldn’t be possible without the community or the board.
Many of their board members are small business owners that donate their company resources or manual labor to put on the events every year, he said. Plus, all of the dollars that the events raise, go right back into the park.
Back when the park needed overflow parking for Park Fest attendees, Hesnard would contact the Landus plant manager in Ackley to see if its lot was available during the weekend.
Hesnard, who works out of the Landus location in Bradford, IA, stated, “The staff at that plant were always happy to help us out when we needed overflow parking. I always had a good connection with Landus and the managing staff in Ackley.”
The Landus property in Ackley houses a parcel that has running water and electricity. It also happens to share a property line with the, otherwise, property locked park.
“We were looking at applying for grants which can sometimes take years to process, so we really didn’t know if we were going to have the money by the time we thought the lot would go up for sale,” said Hesnard.
Hesnard knew the lot would be going up for sale soon and reached out to President and CEO, Matt Carstens to ask for a heads–up before the property on the market. Carstens looped Steve Nielsen, General Counsel at Landus into the conversation. They spoke back and forth before deciding that the property would be best served as a donation to Prairie Bridges Park and the people of Ackley.
A ceremony was held at Prairie Bridges Park in Ackley to commemorate the donation from Landus to Friends of Prairie Bridges Park on January 6, 2023. Every park board member was present along with Steve Nielsen to sign over the deed to the property.
“Saying thanks isn’t really doing justice on how much we appreciate this donation,” said Hesnard. He said it started out as a dream in the background and wasn’t sure if the board would be able to afford to purchase it. “The donation is big for this park and the community.”
Hesnard and the Friends of Prairie Bridges Park, the nonprofit arm of the park, plan to expand the campgrounds to include 25 additional campsites and utilize the parcel building as a workshop garage for the lawnmowers and golfcarts for the winter.
“Our current shed is packed full of other supplies for the park, so having this additional building that already has electricity and plumbing is amazing,” said Hesnard.
Landus sees this donation as a sincere investment into its rural communities. The local businesses benefit from this park by seeing a correlated increase in sales during the camping season. The City of Ackley sells golf cart permits to park campers every year. Local businesses see a spike in sales during park events. The family-friendly atmosphere keeps the tight-knit community thriving. However, the economic impact boost isn’t what matters most to the people of Prairie Bridges and Ackley.
To fully grasp the magnitude of this donation, make a reservation at Prairie Bridges during the warmer months. The families there will tell you why they keep coming back every summer. Visit the park during its “Park Fest” and see a community banding together to help local charity organizations like Camp Sunnyside. Look on the internet and try to find another campsite as big as Prairie Bridges in a town of 1,500 people. Prairie Bridges truly is an Iowa jewel that Landus is proud to support.