Celebrating 60 Years of Local Conservation | 1962-2022

Chautauqua Park Pollinator Habitat sign about the project timeline.

Park Spotlight: Chautauqua Park

Acquired in 1964, this was the first area acquired by the Des Moines County Conservation Board. Located just east of Mediapolis, the ten acre day-use park features a variety of tree species, some of which are very old. A monument inscribed with the names of the charter members of the Kossuth Presbyterian Church founded in 1839 can be found in the southeast corner of the park.

The worn-out shelter house at the middle of the park was torn down in 2020. With declining visitation, discussions at the conservation department have been ongoing for a couple years as to what to do with the park. Numerous ideas were tossed around, including converting the four-ish acres of mowed area into pollinator habitat. With budget cuts forcing us to cut back on mowing expenses, the decision was made this spring to move forward with that plan. So we partnered with the Aldo Leopold Chapter of Pheasants Forever to proceed with the conversion.  

The mowed area was recently sprayed with herbicide, with future applications planned for later summer/early fall. Once the turf grass is completely killed off, staff will plant the area this fall/early winter with a highly diverse mix of pollinator-friendly wildflowers. Once planted, staff will keep the area mowed down throughout 2023 to keep weed competition in check. Native prairie species spend most of their first year putting roots down so that first year mowing is important. Those deep roots, some as deep as the plant is tall, are what make prairie plants so resilient. They’re also what built Iowa’s rich soil. 

Post-planting mowing will likely cease in 2024, with only spot-treatment of weeds as needed. That’s when you’ll see things start to bloom, though it will likely take another year or so for the site to achieve its full color potential. But once fully established, there will be some species blooming on the site for most of the entire growing season and the place will buzz (literally!) with life. 

Citizen fills out survey about supporting Des Moines County parks and conservation.

Surveys Show Wide Support for Parks and Conservation

This article originally appeared in The Hawk Eye newspaper as part of Director Chris Lee’s monthly Living Land Column.

Among the many things we do at the conservation department, one is to gather input from the public. We do this both formally and informally. 

Informally, we talk with a lot of people. Our staff talk to our park visitors and program participants to find out what they like about our parks and programs and what could be better. I spend a lot of time out in the community, gathering feedback on what the broader community wants from its park systems. We also stay informed on industry trends and collaborate with colleagues across the state for a broader view of public sentiment regarding parks and conservation.

Formally, we conduct surveys. In 2018 we conducted a countywide survey to find out what Des Moines County residents knew about our park system and what they wanted from it in the future in terms of development, improvement, and programming. We worked with the regional planning commission to conduct the survey in such a way that we got a statistically significant sample of the county population at large. There’s a science to doing such surveys, and we tapped the experts to make sure we did it right. 

The results of that survey, along with several others that were less statistically regimented, helped shape the development of the various strategic operational and development plans that we use today to prioritize park improvement and expansion projects as well as to guide environmental education programming changes.

We also use data gathered from surveys to support budget and policy requests. Unfortunately, public support doesn’t necessarily translate into political will. But that’s a rant for another time. 

And I know that skeptics will argue that surveys can be manipulated to say whatever the surveyor wants them to, because I’ve heard that argument before. But I contend that when you ask the same basic questions in different ways, repeatedly, and through multiple survey mechanisms across varying segments of the population, you can dilute that bias and be more confident in the results. 

So, what do we consistently hear from you regarding parks and conservation? In short, there’s a lot of support for such things. Here are some highlights from various surveys that back that up. 

For county residents, favorite outdoor recreation activities are hiking and fishing, with bicycling a rather distant third. However, the bicycling thing may reflect a lack of opportunity. When asked what activities or facilities county residents want to see added to the county park system, bike trails were the second most requested amenity behind campgrounds and cabins.

When asked what activities county residents would like to try but haven’t yet, the top two were canoeing/kayaking and cabin camping. 

County residents also stated in survey responses that when friends or family from out of town come to visit, they’re more likely to visit parks and outdoor facilities than they are to visit shopping areas, historic sites, downtowns, or bars. Only restaurants scored higher than parks/outdoor areas for places people will go with out-of-town visitors. 

More than any other media outlet, most people found out about county parks and programs by word-of-mouth. So, tell your friends.

As for conservation priorities, county residents want sensitive lands protected and invasive species controlled in natural areas. 

It also appears that we’re willing to pay for what we value. More than half of county residents surveyed indicated unequivocal support for additional tax dollars being allocated to conservation priorities with another third indicating they’d possibly support additional tax funding, depending on the project or how the funding was structured. This sentiment holds across multiple survey mechanisms both locally and statewide. Depending on the survey, usually between half and three quarters of respondents say they support tax funding for parks and conservation. 

Repeated polling of Iowans regarding funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund – the constitutionally protected fund that would generate $200 million annually for parks and conservation across the state via a 3/8-cent sales tax increase – shows statewide support in the upper 70-percent range. 

In the last election, voters in Polk County (where Des Moines is located) approved a $65 million bond referendum to fund county park and conservation efforts there. The bond passed with more than 80 percent of voters in favor of taxing themselves for more and better parks and trails, cleaner waters, and protected natural areas. In the general election prior to that, more than 70 percent of voters in Linn County (home to Cedar Rapids) passed a similar bond. Voters in Johnson County (Iowa City) passed theirs in 2008. And voters in the state’s smallest county by population – Adams County – passed a bond largely to support the area’s most popular outdoor recreation attraction and economic engine – Lake Icaria. 

Locally, three-quarters of more than 400 survey respondents – park visitors mostly – say they support additional government funding to improve the water quality at Big Hollow Lake. And a survey conducted through the University of Iowa Marketing Institute targeted at the local business community found that 74 percent of respondents are “more than likely” to support an increase in taxes to expand outdoor recreation efforts in the county. 

Surveys can be good at assessing public opinion and levels of support. But opinions don’t build parks or protect lands or clean waters. That takes action. By us. By our elected leaders. So, I’ll end with one last survey question:

What will you do to support parks and conservation in your community?

Help Others Find Great Parks: Leave a Review

Whether we like it or not, most of the modern world is bound in some way to online resources. And while many of us seek park and conservation areas to escape the demands of endless connectivity, the reality is that many people often use online resources to find those parks in the first place. So there’s where you come in…

Online reviews help parks rise to the top of search listings so if there are parks you really enjoy, leaving a review will help others find it. Reviews also provide “social proof” of a park’s quality and amenity offerings.

If you’ve enjoyed your visits to your county parks, please take a moment to leave an online review or like us on social media. Here are some quick links for doing so:

Raffle Sponsors Needed

We’re working with the Partners for Conservation Foundation to put together a “60 for 60” Raffle in honor of our 60th Anniversary and to raise funds for parks, conservation, and environmental education programs. 

This raffle will feature 60 prizes ranging from canoes, kayaks and bikes to cabin stays all over the state, to fishing and hunting gear. Tickets will be sold in bundles of six for $60 per bundle. Then, 60 winners will be drawn at the Partners Banquet at Parkside Brewing Co. on October 13. Each ticket bundle purchased doubles as an entry ticket to the event.

The Foundation is seeking sponsors to cover the cost of the prizes. Sponsors may purchase and donate prizes themselves, or simply make a monetary contribution. 

Partners is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization so all contributions are tax-deductible. 

In return for their investment, sponsors will get:

The prize list will be updated as sponsorships are secured and will be posted on Partners’ website. The raffle will be announced publicly and tickets will go on sale on August 13 during our Summer Celebration event at Starr’s Cave. Tickets will be available at local sponsoring locations through October 12 and the drawing will take place at the “Pints for Parks at Parkside” event on October 13 at Parkside Brewing Co. Tickets will be available at that event.

So if you or anyone you know would like to sponsor this fundraiser, please contact us at conservation@dmcounty.com or by phone at 319-753-8260 and we’ll connect you with a Partners volunteer.

Sponsorship Opportunity Flyer

Summer 2022 EE Update

Summer camps have begun at Starr’s Cave! So far, the weather has been warm, and the creek stomping has been refreshing. Each week campers can be found exploring the park, searching for animals, building forts, and stomping through Flint Creek.

This summer we’re hosting a monthly Hike-A-Park program. Once a month we’ll meet at one of our parks at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday and take a nice hike. Generally, these hikes will last about two hours. Keep an eye on our Facebook page to find out where and when the next hike is!

Nature at Night is coming up on July 27th at Starr’s Cave Nature Center from 8:00 - 9:00 p.m. This public program will be led by the Des Moines County Conservation AmeriCorps Naturalist. The program is free and open to all ages. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Space is limited and registration is required. This event is outdoors, and some hiking will be required. Call Starr’s Cave Nature Center at 753-5808 to reserve your spot!

Do you enjoy interacting with the public and talking with people about nature and outdoor recreation? Help us staff Starr’s Cave Nature Center! Shifts are generally Saturdays from 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. If we find enough volunteers to help, we can split the Saturday shift into two. Volunteer duties include opening the nature center, talking to visitors, light cleaning, and closing the nature center. If you’re interested in helping us head over to our website and fill out a volunteer contact form or call Kelly at 319-753-5808.

Starr’s Cave Nature Center is open on Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. and Sundays from 12:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. Due to a busy schedule of programs, we encourage you to call before you stop by to make sure someone will be there. As always if you’re out here and the sign says “Open” feel free to stop in!

Upcoming Events

Visitors and a Des Moines County Conservation member interacting at the annual DMCC Summer Celebration.

4th Annual DMCC Summer Celebration

Saturday, August 13

Join us for our 4th Annual DMCC Summer Celebration!

This free, family-friendly event will feature activities throughout the day the entire family can enjoy.

Come check out Starr's Cave Nature Center and try out the Stream Table. Hike the Starr's Cave portion of the Flint River Trail. Wade in Flint Creek during a Critter Catch. Enjoy one of our yard games.

Big Holloween at the Campground

Little girl dressed as a witch at Big Holloween at the Campground at Big Hollow Recreation Area.

Saturday, October 8

Come celebrate Halloween in the Campground! This all-ages public event will feature fall-themed crafts, hayrack rides, costume contests, a bonfire and s'more roasting, trick-or-treating among the participating RV's, prizes for campsite and camper decorations, live music and more!

You do not have to camp at the park to participate. Everyone is invited to participate in the events and trick-or-treat among the RV's.

Campers staying at the park that participate in the event will get a voucher for a free night's stay. And don't forget to pack the decorations...we'll be giving away prizes for the best decorated campsite/camper for both daytime and nighttime displays.

published Friday, July 1, 2022

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