The first dirt work for the development of Arbor Valley Lake officially kicked off in January of 2003. When J.B. Hamilton, Alan Lundquist, and Bud Jones joined forces to turn 435-plus acres of pasture and timber in southern Clarke County into a man-made lake and housing development, they envisioned what stands before the residents of Arbor Valley today – the beautiful peace and serenity of rural Iowa life surrounded by the benefits of a private lake and access to boating, fishing, community, family and more. But their journey from vision to fruition, like Arbor Valley’s source, White Breast Creek, had its twists and turns. They’d have to navigate and work hard to make their way to where they are today.
Arbor Valley’s story starts even further back than 2003. During the droughts of the 1930’s Clarke County residents converged on White Breast Creek for water to sustain their farms and livestock. Little did they realize a natural spring fed into the area. And while lakes and creeks throughout the Midwest were quickly turning to dust, the southern Clarke County springs never went dry. Later, J.B Hamilton decided to capitalize on that natural gift, purchasing land throughout the area that would eventually become Arbor Valley Lake.
When ground originally broke, engineers were estimating 15-20 years just to get permits and red-tape processed to get the lake basin and water area developed. That didn’t include the development of housing or the establishment of much-needed infrastructure like sewage lines, power and roads. Ultimately, the team reached out to Mike Barker of Barker-Lemar Engineering, and within five years, they had the necessary permits and development was well under way.
“The learning curve for this development was crazy and fast,” said Jones. “The team focused on moving forward as quickly as possible all while keeping an eye on a delicate habitat, maintaining natural conservation, and the sustainability of the surrounding area.”
One unique story from early in the permitting stages came from an Indiana bat study through Central College. This survey determines flight paths of the Indiana bat, an endangered species indigenous to the Midwest. Not only was Arbor Valley within the bat’s reproductive migration path, but the shag bark trees, many of which the development team had been removing in their clearing for the basin, were the natural housing for the bats. That meant trouble and the kind of trouble that came with a price tag. Engineers and the development team quickly came up with plans to rectify the habitat, planting thousands of new trees and strengthening the environment for future wildlife.
That work, along with the development of a permanent berm surrounding the lake at the cost of more than $2-million now acts as a filtration system from upper land developments and activities down to the lake and the natural watershed. Through multiple filters the man-made berm cleans water runoff as it moves down toward the area’s water table and on into the headwaters of White Breast. That, along with additional land that was purchased for siltation ponds to help keep the lake free of debris, added to make Arbor Valley Lake the first “Green Lake” in the Midwest.
By 2008, planning and permits were done and in hand, green-lighting the lake to be filled. Unfortunately, this was just in time for the collapse of the housing market. While real-estate wasn’t moving much in the Des Moines metro and other areas, the Arbor Valley team didn’t slow down.
Between early 2008 and the final build-out of the lake’s first house in 2016, the team reinforced their environmental commitments and developed agreements with the City of Osceola and the County to reinvest valuable development revenue to each. By granting the water and sewer infrastructure back to the City for future revenue as well as holding off on the development of roads to the lake until a sustainable tax base was established, the Arbor Valley team assured themselves a strong financial and developmental future.
“The lake development and the land they acquired was eventually annexed to the City,” said Ty Wheeler, Osceola City Administrator. “That ended up adding more than 435 acres to our southern border.”
While writing this feature, the 13th lot started excavation with expectation of a new home to be completed by the end of 2023. Travis Djuren and his wife Jessica, from the Des Moines metro area, broke ground on Wednesday saying the decision to build at Arbor Valley Lake came down to the lifestyle and beauty they experienced there.
“Other lake properties we looked at really just seemed over-crowded,” said Jessica Djuren. “As soon as we saw how Arbor Valley was set up, with plenty of space and personal privacy, we knew we were in the right place.”
After 20 years and a lot of hard work, the Arbor Valley Lake developers continue to keep their eyes focused sharply on the future. Plans to start building on the east side of the lake have been discussed, but no firm commitments have been made.
“We want to maintain the beautiful, rural vistas and quiet lifestyle at Arbor Valley,” said Paula McClaflin, Broker/Owner at Stoney Oak Properties. “If we see higher demand for properties in the future, the other side of the lake may come into play, but not today.”