The Ed Lowe we don’t know

Published 10:37 pm Wednesday, December 10, 2003

By Staff
Frank McKay's Letter to the Editor last week regarding the Edward Lowe Foundation prairie prompts me to delve into a long overdue topic. Driving up Decatur Road off from M-60 a large, elegant sign looms before us, The Edward Lowe Foundation. "Yea, I've heard about that guy, he made a fortune from cat poop." We slow down and peer down the stark, blacktop driveway running off to the western horizon. All we see is a small, white building nestled amidst immaculately groomed shrubs and gardens guarding the entrance. The sign on the gate says Visitors Check In Here. Other than that the drive just seems to lead into oblivion. As we continue on our way we can't help but wonder what lies down that mysterious lane.
That road is the pathway into Edward Lowe's legacy. We all know the late Ed Lowe as the inventor of Kitty Litter, a product that proved very financially rewarding. However, rather than retire to a mansion in the Bahamas Ed chose to commit his life and fortunes to help other small business persons succeed, "championing the entrepreneurial spirit" as he called it. That lane pierces into a vast expanse of land acquired by the Foundation piece by parcel over the years. Here he built facilities to educate and train small business persons. But that's another story.
This is about a side of Ed Lowe few people know, his lifelong love of nature. He went to unimaginable lengths to make Big Rock Valley as the land is called, into the best wildlife habitat that he could. Even before the inception of the Edward Lowe Foundation in 1985 it has been Mike McCuistion's job (among a myriad of other duties) to oversee the land and the wildlife and to ensure sound conservation practices are followed at every step.
What a job Mike has done. That mystery drive off from Decatur Road soon turns into a spider web of gravel lanes snaking throughout Big Rock Valley's 2500 acres. They meander through over 700 acres of woodlands tended by a full time forester, not for timber production but for ideal wildlife habitat. There are old growth forests, young forests, mixed age forests and stands of poplar for grouse and deer forage. Fallen trees are left lying naturally on the ground to provide cover for small animals and prevent moisture loss just as nature intended.
Winding our way up hills and down valleys we encounter pristine creeks, swamps, ponds and lakes, 550 acres in all. Numerous vernal ponds, shallow puddles that dry up in summer, have been dug solely for salamanders and frogs. Several new ones are dug every year. Some of the land encompasses the old Geneva Prairie and true to form Mike, in conjunction with Pheasants Forever, has recreated some 300 acres of meadows and tall grass prairies scattered throughout the property. Over 800 acres of cropland further feeds the untold numbers of wildlife abounding on this diverse land. Even though the Foundation's primary mission is promoting small business, over a third of the approximately 25 employees are regularly involved in environmental projects.
Creating such great land is one thing but in typical Ed Lowe fashion it is also put to good use. Numerous conservation organizations, learning institutions and even individuals conduct scientific studies and surveys at Big Rock Valley. High schools and colleges utilize Big Rock Valley for wildlife and environment classes. Mike regularly conducts eco-tours for Foundation employees as well as local schools. Most of the plant and wildlife species found on the property, some listed as threatened or endangered, are monitored and records kept of the more unusual and rare ones.
So now you know, at least in part, what lies down that mystery drive. What started out back in 1967 as Ed Lowe's 160 acre private retreat has evolved into a world class example of environmental management. Surely Ed Lowe is looking down with a proud smile. Unfortunately, space precludes me from detailing the many leading edge conservation technologies in practice at The Foundation. Perhaps another time. Carpe diem.
Larry Lyons writes a weekly outdoor column for Leader Publications. He can be reached at