In 1938, John C. Hartman of the Waterloo Daily Courier helped the local YMCA purchase 56 acres of forested land. In the letter that accompanied his pledge to the YMCA, Hartman wrote, "The closer the young are kept to nature, the better and happier men and women they will become." Camp Hartman Reserve was used for residential camping and other programs until the early 1970s. In 1976, Black Hawk County Conservation Board purchased the land in order to establish an environmental education center.
Since our creation in 1976, Hartman Reserve Nature Center has been designated as an Iowa Watchable Wildlife Site and an Important Bird Area. Pileated woodpeckers, deer, river otter, turkeys, red shouldered hawks, fox, vultures, and bald eagles are some of the wildlife you might see. We are a partner site of Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area. Hartman Bluff State Preserve is certified by the Iowa DNR Preserves Board to recognize the significance of a 46-acre tract of upland and lowland forest within the Nature Center.