SUTHERLAND—People who visit the Prairie Heritage Center now have the opportunity to see the surrounding prairie from a new perspective.

A new observation tower has been constructed on the property of O’Brien County Conservation’s headquarters, which is located southeast of Sutherland and overlooks the Little Sioux River Valley.

“We’re very happy with it,” said naturalist Charlene Elyea. “The day that we completed it, the contractor was still over there working and people pulled up and the kids were right up on top of it. It’s gotten a lot of use already.”

The project was completed the week before Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg visited the Prairie Heritage Center on Aug. 6. Since then, more than 850 people have climbed to the top of the tower to view the valley.

Dave Koehlmoos Construction of Paullina started working on the project in late July. O’Brien County Conservation’s park rangers handled pouring the concrete foundation for the tower, which is made out of treated lumber.

“They were done quick,” Elyea said. “It went pretty fast. It was fun to see it go up.”

She described the “wow” factor of climbing the tower for the first time and looking at the view in every direction. The tower’s platform is located 10 feet above the ground.

“It is striking when you’re up that high,” Elyea said.

She said educational components eventually will be added to the tower.

“When you’re standing on the platform, you can see the hanging valley, which is one of those glacial landscape features,” Elyea said. “We’ll do signage about the hanging valley. We’ll have that educational component as a part of that process.”

Part of the funding for the tower project came from a $4,000 O’Brien County Community Foundation grant awarded to the Little Sioux Valley Conservation Association.

The association acts as the main fundraising arm for O’Brien County Conservation projects, raising money for displays, exhibits, educational materials, guest speakers and much more.

The tower was popular with people who attended recent annual events at the Prairie Heritage Center, such as the Bison Stampede 5K Trail Run on Aug. 10 and the Bison Burger Picnic and Lawn Concert on Aug. 20.

“It was fun to see all the people who were waiting in line the other night to go up on top of it,” Elyea said of the picnic. “I anticipate that school groups will be similar to that.”

Money raised at the two events has gone toward helping to pay for the tower project. About $1,300 was raised during the trail run and more than $5,000 was raised during the picnic.

In addition, Modern Woodmen of America matched funds donated up to $2,500 during the picnic to help pay for the tower project.

“That was very generous of Modern Woodmen to do that,” Elyea said. “Of course, we’re always appreciative of the donors and the people who attend the picnic.”

More than 500 people attended the picnic, which is a record number for the event dating back to 2006, the year the Prairie Heritage Center opened.

“That was an outstanding picnic,” Elyea said. “There were people everywhere. That was fantastic. The weather was definitely a good factor in it.”

She noted the herd of bison calling the Prairie Heritage Center’s property home is more easily seen from the higher elevation.

“Sometimes they lay down in the grass and so it’s a little hard to see them,” Elyea said. “That will be a good feature. Everybody loves the bison.”

The tower will be good for bird watching as well, especially migrating hawks during September and October.

“We have about 400 hawks a day that fly over this valley,” Elyea said. “Being able to be up higher, just that vantage point of being able to see further up the valley, that’s going to be a good feature.”

She said the tower will be good for tourism at the Prairie Heritage Center, which is located just north of the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway, a 36-mile loop traveling through parts of Buena Vista, Cherokee, Clay and O’Brien counties.

“It’s a tourism advantage,” Elyea said. “We’ll be able to promote it on the scenic byway as a feature of that.”

This story was originally published in the Sept. 7 edition of The South O'Brien Sun.