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Bettendorf man wins award for conservation leadership

March 3, 2019

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — Curtis Lundy was the guiding force behind the Quad-Cities’ first XStream Clean-Up, a community-wide litter pickup along area streams involving hundreds of volunteers. He got the idea while biking along Duck Creek and seeing all the pop cans and car tires.

He pushed a program in Scott County to seed native plants in the ditches of country roads, creating habitat for birds and pollinators. He put in some of his own money to help get it started because he knows that if birds and pollinators fail, humans aren’t far behind.

He serves as chairman of the board that governs Davenport’s Nahant Marsh Education Center as it anticipates even more wetland preservation and public education. Everyone, from little kids to adults, needs to know why wetlands and biodiversity are important.

For these activities and others, Lundy, of Bettendorf, recently received the first Oberholtzer Award for present-day conservation leadership at an event at Modern Woodmen Park, Davenport, the Quad-City Times reported.

Ernest Oberholtzer (1884-1977) was a Davenport native who was a founding member of the Wilderness Society and instrumental in protecting the wilderness and lakes of northern Minnesota. The awards were presented by Nahant Marsh in partnership with the Joyce & Tony Singh Family Foundation of Davenport.

In accepting the award, Lundy said he wants people to understand that everyone can make a difference for the environment.

“We’re not all going to be crusaders,” he said, referring to such stalwarts as Chad Pregracke, founder of Living Lands & Waters and Kathy Wine, a founder of River Action Inc., who have made conservation and the environment their life’s work.

“But we all can do what we can,” Lundy said. “I’m accepting this on behalf of the hundreds and thousands of people out there who really are moving the needle.”

In addition to his work with stream cleanup, roadside vegetation and Nahant, Lundy founded a nonprofit group called Partners of Scott County Watersheds that promotes awareness, understanding of, and care for, watersheds throughout the county.

This interest also was prompted by biking along Duck Creek. In addition to his concern for the trash — and, later, invasive plants — along its banks, he wondered what was in the water itself, both life forms and substances that might be harmful to aquatic life.

“I literally knew nothing,” he said one recent day, sitting in a chair at his dining room table.

He rounded up several teachers and students, bought equipment, and invited them to discover what was in the water, an activity that has morphed into annual “snapshots.”

Regarding Nahant, “there is no question in my mind that Nahant Marsh would not be where it is today, and may not even exist today, without Curtis’ leadership,” Cal Werner, a Davenport lawyer and member of many boards, said in an email.

Lundy’s journey to conservation has unfolded over the years, beginning in Davenport where he grew up in a house across from Lindsay Park. He’d go pheasant hunting with his dad and during the summers, his family would travel to Wisconsin’s Door County for a month. Lundy walked along the lake shores and fished and looked under rocks to see what life was hiding there.

He graduated from high school at a Jesuit institution in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, then moved to England where he spent time in a seminary. He came back to the United States, graduating from Boston College with degrees in philosophy and English, then returned to England to become a Montessori teacher.

“I didn’t have any science background and here I had to create learning experiences for kids,” Lundy said. “This forced me to go back and learn.”

The learning continued back in the U.S. three years later when he studied to become a certified public accountant. He worked for Deloitte, an international accounting firm, and then the Deere Harvester Credit Union where he was executive vice president. In 2000, he joined with others in the formation of The National Bank. He retired — mostly — in 2007 as its chief financial officer, although he’s returned a few times to help with projects.

His connections in the business world and with people of means allow him to get things done. “I know that he has contact and influence with people whose ears are good to have,” Julie Malake, a member of Friends of Nahant Marsh, wrote in nominating Lundy for the Oberholtzer award.

In addition to his work in the Quad-Cities, Lundy does hands-on, personal habitat restoration on a 130-acre property he owns in Allamacke County in the northeast corner of Iowa.

He well remembers the day in 2005 when he went to check it out. He stood on a bluff, looking 50 feet up toward a cliff and 50 feet down toward a trout stream. Was there any doubt he would buy it?

He purchased the tract from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation that was looking for a buyer who would agree to a perpetual conservation easement.

“We had no idea how good of a land steward we’d found,” Joe McGovern, of the foundation, wrote in an email. “Curtis protected this special place. ... (And) he has invested countless hours restoring the woodlands, prairies, wetlands and stream habitats.”

A conversation with Lundy crosses a wide range of topics, from the last book he read (a biography of Benjamin Franklin) to travels through New Zealand to family history.

A great-grandfather was a stonecutter at the Arsenal who formed a company that built Davenport’s Sacred Heart Cathedral and the Hotel Blackhawk.

His grandfather, T.J. Walsh, took over the company in 1916, building the former Davenport Bank & Trust Co. building and the Alcoa (now Arconic) plant in Riverdale. This grandfather also was the chairman of the consortium which constructed the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in Washington, the largest concrete structure in the world at the time. And before all that, this grandfather was a member of the World Series Chicago Cubs of 1906. Lundy’s father founded Midwest Metals Corp., Davenport. Their stories are part of his story.

But about conservation, what can the average person do?

At this question, Lundy springs up from his chair, disappears around a corner and returns with the book “Bringing Nature Home,” by Douglas Tallamy.

Tallamy’s message is that humans have destroyed natural habitat in so many places that local and global extinction is accelerating. This is a problem for humanity that depends on plants and animals to keep it alive. But because nearly 85 percent of the U.S. land is privately owned, regular people have an opportunity to help. They can install plants that support diverse pollinator populations and complex food webs, store carbon, and help manage watersheds by their root systems.

“Start where you live,” Lundy said. “Most of what’s going on (in the environment) is at the surface and below. There’s so much that can be done to help nature do its thing. You’ll realize your backyard is more than 12 feet (of ground) outside your house. Your heart and mind is going to expand if you start with managing trees and peonies.”

“Help out as needed. Do what you can. Live your life. Make a contribution.”

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Information from: Quad-City Times, http://www.qctimes.com