Headed outdoors

Cold wind can’t keep Leadership Fort Dodge from Gypsum City OHV Park

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Emily Lawler, of Clare, at left, and members of Leadership Fort Dodge, try out some of the off-highway vehicles in the maintenance shed at Gypsum City OHV Park Thursday afternoon. Damp and windy conditions prevented the group from riding, but Webster County Conservation leaders provided information and future plans for the park during the session.

It took years of planning, collaboration, and even a piece of legislation for the Gypsum City Off-Highway Vehicle Park to become what it is today — which is the largest OHV park in the state of Iowa, according to Dennis Plautz, president of the Webster County Improvement Corp.

That was the message to participants in the Leadership Fort Dodge program Thursday afternoon during a presentation about the progress of the park, southeast of Fort Dodge.

The meeting was held at the maintenance shed on the property where the park is located.

The 650-acre OHV park is constructed on land acquired at no cost by the Webster County Improvement Corp. from USG, National Gypsum and Georgia Pacific.

Plautz said the idea for the park started with Larry Leiting, of Fort Dodge, in the late 1990s. Leiting was a member of Webster County Wheelers.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Matt Cosgrove, Webster County Conservation director, center, talks about improvements the Gypsum City OHV park campgrounds Thursday afternoon.

But because of a lack of funding sources and trouble acquiring land, the project stalled for a few years.

In 2004, much of the land was transferred to the Webster County Improvement Corp. — a five member board that owns and leases sections of the OHV Park land. The Improvement Corporation is separate from the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance. Plautz is also the chief executive officer of the Growth Alliance.

Liability was another setback, Plautz said.

“It went on for years without any headway,” he said.

Former state Rep. Helen Miller, D-Fort Dodge, wrote a liability law specific to the OHV Park.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Matt Cosgrove, Webster County director of conservation, left, and Emily Lawler, of Clare, try out their selfie skills inside the maintenance shed at Gypsum City OHV Park Thursday afternoon. Lawler and others from Leadership Fort Dodge were there to learn about the amenities of the park.

The law states that gypsum mining companies that donate land to a 501c3 organization for use of an OHV Park are exempt from liability.

The Webster County Improvement Corp. is a 501c3 organization.

“Helen Miller was one of the real keys to this,” Plautz said.

2006 was the first time riders raced through the park legally.

Webster County Conservation became involved with the project in 2009, and Plautz said that’s when the park really started to take shape.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Tasha Nielsen, trail technician for Webster County Conservation, speaks to members from Leadership Fort Dodge about the trails at Gypsum City OHV Park Thursday afternoon.

“It really took off in structure when the Webster County Conservation Board and Matt Cosgrove got involved,” Plautz said.

Cosgrove said the park has provided a way for people to ride legally.

“Fort Dodge has a rich history of riding,” he said. “It started illegally, until it became legal.”

The park has three phases, which take up space on both sides of Webster County Road P59.

An open shelter with picnic tables and grill, loading dock, restrooms, 1.5 mile MX track, a beginners track, a circle track, fishing ponds, and more than 60 miles of trails for all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, and off-road vehicles, are among the amenities of the park.

Plautz said the park has received $6.25 million in funding, mostly through federal grants.

“All of the grants came from non-local government funding,” he said. “No local taxpayer money went into this with the exception of water and sewer lines.”

Cosgrove said a lot of money has been invested in chain link fencing. According to Iowa law, the park has to be fenced in.

Cosgrove said the park has attracted visitors from out-of-state.

The campground located within the park has 33 camping sites. It has become a popular destination.

During Labor Day weekend in 2018 the campground had representation from seven different states, Cosgrove reported.

“We are seeing a lot of non-residents,” he said.

Plautz said the park is a real asset.

“This is unique,” he said. “You would not have this without the land available.”