SIBLEY, Iowa | For the first time in years, a national convention comes to Osceola County, settling in atop the highest point in Iowa.
The Highpointers Club, some 250 to 300 members strong, gathers Thursday through Saturday at Hawkeye Point, 4 miles north of Sibley, celebrating a place that's 1,670 feet above sea level, and a place that's one of Iowa's newest welcoming spots.
Seven years ago, the late Merrill and Donna Sterler family donated 1.6 acres of land that includes Hawkeye Point to Osceola County. The family's aim was to keep the spot open and accessible to the public.
Mike Earll, Hawkeye Point Committee chair and director of economic development for Osceola County (Iowa's smallest county in land mass), believes it might be the first national convention in his county in decades.
"Years ago we had a trappers' convention at the Osceola County Fairgrounds," Earll says. "But that was 25-plus years ago."
The Highpointers Club is a national organization with a mission of gaining access to, and developing each of the 50 highest states' points in the U.S. Hawkeye Point was chosen as the 2015 meeting location, in part to honor the commitment of the Sterler family and the organizations, among them the Sibley-Ocheyedan High School FFA Chapter, that have helped make the park a welcome center.
Earll notes that several states have "high points" located on private land and are largely inaccessible to the public. The highest point in Illinois, for example, is on a family farm. The site boats of two lawn chairs and has public access to it limited to just one day per year.
FFA members have joined various volunteers and members of the Westerners/Those Crazy Goat Kids 4-H Club in pouring cement at Hawkeye Point, erecting restrooms and a shower facility, a shelter house, an interpretive center of sorts, an observation deck and more.
In addition, there's now a campsite with 12 electrical hook-ups and even more tent sites, all within easy reach of four-lane Highway 60.
The old Sterler silo still stands at Hawkeye Point, around which the observation deck gives tourists a view of Iowa, Minnesota and, if conditions are right, a peek into South Dakota.
Years ago, a long cattle trough extended south from that silo and ended at the exact site that is Iowa's highest point. The trough is gone and in its place is a tiled decorative circle, a place that's a favorite photo spot for visitors from 50 states and dozens of foreign countries.
An old corn crib has been painted and now houses antique farm implements as well as historic photos showcasing important events from the county's past, including the day that President Theodore Roosevelt stopped by to address hundreds from the back of his passenger train.
"We've designed this as a walk-trough agricultural museum, one that people can enjoy any time of the day," Earll says.
A separate kiosk with posts sunk 7 feet into the ground (to withstand wind gusts at this elevation) has matted photos and information leading visitors to all sorts of Osceola county attractions, including Ocheyedan Mound, a site near Ocheyedan, Iowa, that was once believed to be Iowa's highest point.
Earll calls Ocheyedan Mound, at 1,655 feet, the "most picturesque high point in Iowa."
Members of the Highpointers Club will visit Ocheyedan Mound as well, a public site that lent itself to the name of the old Ocheyedan High School Mounders athletic teams.
Many Highpointers are also planning time to tour Wells' Dairy in Le Mars, Iowa, and will enjoy and old-fashioned picnic featuring roasted pork and sweet corn at the Sibley Golf Course.
The convention will conclude with the Highpointers Annual Banquet on Saturday. At this time, members will conduct the business of the club, present annual awards and make a special presentation to Donna Sterler and her family, recognizing their contributions in developing Hawkeye Point.