Construction of new USFWS facility at former Luster Heights location is scheduled to begin this summer

Artist’s rendering of new USFWS McGregor District office at former Luster Heights facility ... The image above is an artist’s rendering of the new McGregor District office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) being planned to begin construction this summer at the location of the former Luster Heights correctional facility near Harpers Ferry. The new 6,000-square-foot multi-purpose building will house the USFWS staff and will have a multi-purpose space available for educational activities, meetings, training, and volunteer events. Submitted image.

by Kelli Boylen

Luster Heights, located on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River south of Harpers Ferry, was a minimum security prison camp from 1962 until the Iowa Department of Corrections closed the facility in 2017. Soon, this land will have a new life as the McGregor District Headquarters of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) McGregor District office was located against the base of the bluff between McGregor and Marquette from the 1980s until 2015. The building was vacated due to mold issues resulting from water damage and frequent damage to vehicles from tumbling rocks falling off the bluff. The USFWS staff has been housed in a leased building north of Prairie du Chien, WI since and has been searching for a permanent location.

Finding a good location hasn’t been easy, says Kendra Pednault, McGregor District Manager of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and the Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge. The organization wanted to be on or near the lands and waters it is responsible for managing. USFWS didn’t want to build in the floodplain, nor take away from land that was refuge habitat.

The Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the former prison camp site from the State of Iowa in March 2020 for $211,000. Pednault says the USFWS purchased the 26 acres that was the correctional facility, and they will be using eight acres of it for their new facilities. The remainder of the land will be restored to savanna.

Currently, the USFWS still uses the shop at their old location between McGregor and Marquette, and stores equipment in warehouses in Lansing, Farmersburg and at the Genoa Fish Hatchery (which sits on USFWS land). The new location at Luster Heights will allow them to have most of their equipment in one central location, which will be easier logistically and more cost-effective, says Pednault. Once the building project is complete, they will excess the McGregor and Farmersburg locations. They will keep the Lansing location because of its proximity to the river.

Pednault adds that another advantage of their new location is that it is surrounded by the Luster Heights Unit of Yellow River State Forest. “It’s an excellent fit,” Pednault says, noting that the land management goals will be similar, and visitors to the USFWS visitor contact space and offices can enjoy what the State Forest has to offer, and vice-versa. The new USFWS location will have a public restroom open to the outside for visitors to use, as well as improved parking.

To read the full article, pick up the Wednesday, March 27, 2024 print edition of The Standard or subscribe to our e-edition by clicking here.