As I drove around the Caribou and Skull Lake wildlife management areas in Kittson County, I saw several Nature Conservancy signs for the Wallace C. Dayton Conservation and Wildlife Area—a network of 13,500 acres of TNC preserves in the tallgrass aspen parkland.
As I was researching this story, I asked TNC Minnesota director Ron Nargang to tell me the story behind the Dayton preserve, and it was fascinating. Unfortunately, there wasn't room for it in the magazine story, but thankfully I've got space to tell it here.
When legendary Minnesota environmental philanthropist Wallace C. Dayton became severely ill in 1999, his wife Mary Lee Dayton and their daughters gathered at his home and pondered what they could do to honor his lifetime commitment to conservation. "They said to me, 'What can we do as a treat for dad?'" recalls Nargang.
Nargang got right to work drawing up a proposal on 10,000 acres of natural, undisturbed land in the tallgrass aspen parkland—land that would be large enough to help ensure the parkland's preservation as a landscape.
"I thought they'd decide to buy part of it for posterity," Nargang says. "Wally's wife and daughters came back and bought the whole dang thing for $1.7 million...on one condition. They said they wanted it named after their dad.
"I said, 'Well shoot, if you're going to buy the whole thing, you can call it Iowa for all I care!'"
In honor of the gift from his daughters, the Nature Conservancy presented Wallace Dayton with a four-foot-high portrait of a parkland landscape.
"He had that huge portrait hanging in his bedroom," Nargang says. "And they tell me he used to just stare at it and admire it, right up to the day he died."