Summer / Fall 2018 River Ramblings


Speaking of feedback, we are actively seeking public input regarding the future of our parks and programs. When you have about fifteen minutes to spare, take some time to fill out our 2018 Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Needs Assessment Survey. Your answers will help guide the formation of our next five year strategic plan.

We will be gathering survey responses and public input throughout the summer then the staff and board will begin the strategic planning process in the fall. Surveys may be filled out online Here or hard copies can be picked up at our Main Office or Starr’s Cave Nature Center.


It seems like there are tons of outdoor programs for kids. Summer camps and scouting and field days and… But what programs are there for adults? Wouldn’t we like to learn to fish and paddle and hike and have outdoor adventures too?

Darn right.

And that’s exactly why some local groups have gotten together to form the Iowa Conservation Club. A cooperative effort between Des Moines County Conservation, the Aldo Leopold Chapter of Pheasants Forever, and the Iowa DNR, Conservation Club connects the people that know where and how to tackle various outdoor adventures with other adults that want to but maybe lack the skills and knowledge. Club events include canoeing, hiking, trapshooting, foraging, and fishing, among others in fun, social settings. Some events are public, others are exclusive to Club members.

To find out more about Iowa Conservation Club, follow the group on Facebook (@IAConservationClub).

New and Noteworthy

Here are a few things going on at Des Moines County Conservation recently that might be of some interest:

Harold and Mildred Linder Conservation Area

In November, we cut the ribbon on 105 acres of public land open to hunting, fishing, and nature hiking. The Harold and Mildred Linder Conservation Area is a mile west of Highway 61 on the south side of 170th St. between Burlington and Sperry. The land was partially donated to the county by the Linder family with the remainder of the purchase ($250,000) made possible by a Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) grant.

The property is maintained as a conservation area so its primary purpose is wildlife habitat and natural resources. Activities such as hunting, hiking, and wildlife viewing are allowed on the property as per state laws pertaining to public wildlife areas. Portions of the property are still farmed through a local tenant agreement. More Information

Starr’s Cave and Hickory Bend Expansion

We are currently in the process of completing acquisitions for the expansion of both Starr’s Cave Park and Preserve and Hickory Bend Conservation Area. The Starr’s Cave expansion consists of about 13 acres on the west side of the Preserve previously owned by Norm Pilgram of R&R Development and Norm’s Koestner Electric. Knowing we were interested in acquiring the property both for the Flint River Trail project and to protect more of Flint Creek as well as to square the Preserve property off to the highway, Mr. Pilgram agreed to sell the property to us. The purchase was made possible by funding provided by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. The acquisition should be complete yet this summer and Starr’s Cave’s property boundaries will be officially amended and the property opened to the public once the construction of the Flint River Trail there is complete this fall. The same rules governing Starr’s Cave Park and Preserve will apply to this property.

The Hickory Bend Conservation Area expansion is roughly 65 acres on the east side of the existing conservation area. The area was purchased by the Iowa Department of Transportation as a mitigation site and will be handed over to Des Moines County Conservation once the mitigation work is complete. The forests, wetlands, and streams that are being affected by the Highway 61 four lane project north of Burlington are being replaced on this site. What was once farm fields along Flint Creek next to Hickory Bend have now been planted to trees. Additionally, contractors constructed shallow wetland basins and improved some of the tributary creek banks. Once complete, the property will expand the boundaries of Hickory Bend and be open to public hunting like the rest of the conservation area.

Flint River Trail Construction Has Begun at Starr’s Cave

Contractors have started working on the Flint River Trail on the back side of Starr’s Cave Park and Preserve, near Highway 61. Once complete, this over-one-mile segment of trail through the Preserve will connect Flint Bottom Road at Highway 61 to Irish Ridge Road. The portion of trail along the creek nearest the highway will be concrete while the portion through the middle of the Preserve proper will be lime surfaced like most of the rest of the county portion of the trail. Except for the portion that crosses Flint Creek and Highway 61, which will be completed with the new four-lane highway, the rest of the work is expected to be complete before the end of the year.

Big Hollow Campground Improvements Complete…Almost

This summer marks the final completion of the major improvements to the campground at Big Hollow Recreation Area. Over the past year or more, we’ve installed water and sewer infrastructure and added full hookups to every RV campsite along with a dump station and shower house. This summer we’ve been putting on the finishing touches by adding a new registration station, better landscaping, and dust control, among other things. Add to that the new lake access roads and parking areas just below the campground we finished last fall and we’re about to call the project complete.

Well, maybe not.

Actually there’s one more big thing we hope to add to the park yet this year: a playground.

On account of the growing demand and number of donations we’ve received for a playground structure at the Big Hollow campground, we are moving forward with such a project. The nature-inspired structure we have designed incorporates towers and bridges and slides and climbing features, mostly all made from natural materials. Once we hit our fundraising goals – the whole thing will cost over $40,000 – we’ll have the company, Bears Playgrounds, come install it. We’re already almost half the way to our goal thanks to generous donations so far from Optimists of Burlington/West Burlington, USG Foundation, and others. And if we get the Wellmark Grant we’ve applied for and/or if we continue getting local donations like we have been, we’ll be able to trigger the project immediately.

If all goes as we think it will, we hope to have the structure installed before fall. If you would like to contribute to the project, you can make a donation online, or contact our office for a donation form.

Starr’s Cave Nature Center Gets a Facelift

For the past four years, we’ve been incrementally improving and updating Starr’s Cave Nature Center and this year those major renovations were completed. We started in 2014 by repairing and repainting the old barn’s exterior. Then we completely renovated the bottom floor over a couple year period. Once that was complete, we moved up to the second floor. We tore out walls and flooring, installed insulation, new windows and doors, new lights and new floors. We designed and installed new displays to go along with the new curriculum we created that incorporates modern education standards such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards).

Today, the second floor would be nearly unrecognizable were it not for the fact that we kept the beaver pond exhibit. The old staff office is gone, replaced by a Kids’ Corner, live animal displays, and a wall of books. The lighting is better and the new displays are eye catching and full of interesting information. We even have an “augmented reality” sandbox.

You have to see it to fully appreciate how cool it is!

All of these improvements were made possible by a grant from the Harry and Virginia Murray Foundation, a Resource Enhancement and Protection Conservation Education Program (REAP CEP) grant, and the hard work and dedication of a bunch of volunteers led by longtime volunteer Kevin Moore of Moore’s Professional Carpentry.

Programs, Events, and Services

Starr’s Cave Nature Center has seen dramatic changes in nearly every aspect of its operations and programing this year. With funding from the Burlington Kiwanis group we were able to fund a summer naturalist position and offer new offsite camps for area teens. These camps focused on outdoor skills and targeted an age group that had previously been overlooked. We also spent a lot of time developing and teaching new classroom and field trip programs. These programs were developed as part of our REAP CEP grant. We presented the new curriculum in nearly every second and fourth grade classroom in the county. We also designed and installed new interpretive exhibits in nature center. Exhibits were designed to complement our classroom programs regarding water quality and pollinators. Each exhibit incorporates interactive components including an augmented reality sandbox. We reorganized and updated our classroom program guide and added Next Generation Science Standards to all of our curriculum. We increased our citizen science programing, and we hosted our first bus tour!

We also continue to offer several annual Environmental Education opportunities and services to the public. Our annual programs include an owl prowl, eagle watch, parent-tot classes, science expo, critter catch, nature at night, open climbing wall days, cross country ski rentals, youth ice fishing clinics, the youth jamboree, summer day camps, paddle in the park, and a concert series. The Nature Center is available to the general public for rental; we also open the facilities to local civic groups for monthly meetings and classes.

Upcoming Events

August 1
Open Climbing

Learn how to climb a rock wall. Gear is provided. No experience necessary - we’ll show you the ropes! Our climbing wall is also available for use by request if staff is available. 

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August 18
DMCC Summer Celebration

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

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August 25
Paddle in the Park

 Get out on the water for some paddling fun as we explore the lake. We will see birds, fish, and fall colors. A limited number of boats are available and space is limited.

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Full Event Calendar