Winter 2020

Kayak Launch Docks Coming to Big Hollow

79441777_3545777715462310_8071171369494118400_oWe received word that we were approved for a Water Recreation Access Cost-Share Program grant from the Iowa DNR. With it, we will be expanding the canoe launch area just below the campground at Big Hollow and adding a dedicated kayak launch dock just east of the fishing jetty.

This is a 75/25 split grant, with the state paying 75% of the costs. Our 25% was covered by an anonymous donation, the Truie Clark Johnson Memorial donation and park revenues.

Pond Renovation Planned for Linder Conservation Area

80391704_10157834091764084_6007936434172854272_nWe have also applied for a Fish Habitat Grant to renovate the pond at the Harold and Mildred Linder Memorial Conservation Area. The half-acre pond has silted in over the 50-or-so years it has existed and is currently too shallow to support healthy fish populations. If we receive the grant, which will pay for 90% of the project, we will drain the pond, dig it out after it dries up, rebuild the dam about three to four feet higher than it currently is, and add a fishing jetty and rock along areas of the shoreline. The rock, along with multiple brush piles which will be added also, will provide additional fish habitat throughout the pond. Once the work is complete, the DNR will stock the pond with bluegill, bass, catfish, and crappie. It will take a few years for the fish to reach keeper size, but we expect the pond to be a great place to fish once they do.

Funding for Fish Habitat Grant projects comes from the sale of fishing licenses. Recently, Fish Habitat Grant funds have been used locally to renovate ponds at Big Hollow and the Leopold Recreation Area. Just last year, the grant funds built the new pond next to the campground at Big Hollow. The 10% match for all those recent grant projects, including the one planned at the Linder Area next year, come from revenues generated from the parks in which they’re used.

Americorps Team Eradicates Invasives

Americorps NCCC LogoFrom October 24 through November 8, an eight-person Americorps NCCC team joined the DMCC field staff in an ongoing effort to reduce the prevalence of invasive species - in this case it was bush honeysuckle and autumn olive - within county parks. Left unchecked, these species grow in thick patches in the forest understory, shading out everything below it. This prevents desirable species, such as oaks and hickories, from taking root and in the long run, damages the long-term health of the forest and the wildlife that depend on it.

So we set out to tackle the worst of the invasion in the forested area between the campground and the lake at Big Hollow and along the entrance road at Starr’s Cave. Before the team’s arrival, DMCC field staff used a rented forestry mulcher to annihilate as much of the invasive species that they could get to with the machine. The NCCC team arrived the following week and hand-cut the areas the machine couldn’t get to. In all, the team removed invasive species on 12.4 acres at Big Hollow and on about four acres of incredibly steep topography at Starr's Cave Park and Preserve.

The plan now is to follow up in the coming years with prescribed fire to keep the invasive species from coming back. We have applied for another Americorps NCCC team to help us with burns and park improvements this spring.

AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) is a federal team-based national service program for men and women between the ages of 18 and 24. Corps Members serve a full-time, ten-month term, working on projects to meet community needs in five main program areas: disaster services, energy conservation, environment, infrastructure improvement, and urban and rural development.

Never Miss an Announcement or Program

NotifyMe Opens in new windowDid you know there’s a feature on Des Moines County’s website where you can sign up for automated email or text notifications? It’s the Notify Me function, and it’s a pretty handy tool for keeping up on what’s going on.

Say for instance you want to know whenever we post a new public program on our calendar? If you’re signed up through the Notify Me function, you’ll get a text or email (or both, if you so choose) whenever we post something new on our events calendar. Or maybe you want to know whenever we have news to share. Sign up for notices of our Newsflashes and each time we publish a press release, it’ll come straight to your inbox. Interested in working for Des Moines County Conservation? Sign up for job posting notices and you’ll have the job descriptions at your fingertips the moment they hit the web. Same function applies to meeting agendas, bid opportunities, and even emergency alerts.

You can pick and choose what you get notices for, from what department(s) (not just Conservation), and whether you want them to come via text or email. Simply go to Des Moines County’s website and click the “Notify Me” icon below the main image and choose which information you want sent to you and how. It’s really pretty simple. And in case you’re worried about your contact information being shared, don’t. The county doesn’t use your information for anything other than the functions you specifically sign up for and it does not share contact lists with anyone outside the county.

In addition to following us through our website, be sure to follow us through our social channels: DMCC on Facebook, DMCC on Instagram, and Starr’s Cave Nature Center on Facebook.

Inaugural “Big Holloween” Event a Success!

72644586_3334665899906827_6273676222668996608_o Opens in new windowIt began as just a little idea to have some late-season fun in the campground but the Halloween event we held at Big Hollow on October 12 turned out to be one of our (if not THE) biggest events of the year. (Click the picture for a photo gallery). 

Who knew that trick-or-treating among RV’s would attract such a crowd? Or maybe it was the promise of s’mores over a campfire. Or the hayrack rides. Or maybe it was just an excuse to get outdoors into the park one more time before winter set in. Whatever the reason, hundreds (literally!) of people came to the park for this event, far exceeding our expectations when we first dreamed it up. And we couldn’t be happier about that!

The event was so popular that we instantly set the date for next year’s event (October 10, 2020 in case you’re wondering) and within 24 hours, the reservable sites at the campground filled up. And somewhat surprisingly that was the first weekend for which all the reservable sites were taken for all of 2020 (speaking of which, you might want to get your camping reservation in now for the holiday weekends as they tend to fill up quickly).

EE Winter Update


Starr’s Cave Nature Center has seen a lot of activity over the last few months. We are currently finishing our fall classroom schedules and have started scheduling for 2020. If you are interested in scheduling a program with our education staff for a club, group, or classroom, now is the time to do so.

Starr's Cave Nature Center is excited to announce that Lori Carnes will be leading our eagle programs at the Port of Burlington this January. Lori is an eagle enthusiast and retired teacher who used bald eagles in her day to day curriculum for 9 years in the Mediapolis elementary school. She is currently working with Raptor Research Project on their education committee and visiting classrooms to assist with adding eagles into their daily curriculum. Lori will be hosting four different programs throughout the month of January, including the popular Annual Midwinter Bald Eagle Count. Contact Starr’s Cave Nature Center for more information.

Our AmeriCorps member Kelly Mickael is working with the PIECES after school group to host programs at the nature center for area students and their families on the second Saturday of each month. This partnership is helping the afterschool program meet their grant requirements for the number of programs offered and is helping Starr’s Cave reach new families throughout the community. Families are encouraged to visit the nature center between 9:00 AM and Noon on the second Saturday of any month for a fun hike, game, or activity. Contact Kelly Mickael at Starr’s Cave Nature Center for an activity schedule and program information.

Lastly, we have an exciting and fun filled year of programs planned for 2020. We have been busy planning several new programs including a winter schools out camp, and a second Owl Prowl this February. Make sure to follow the Starr’s Cave Nature Center's Facebook page and events to keep up with scheduled programming. 

Park Spotlight: Starr's Cave


Starr’s Cave Park and Preserve is a 184-acre state nature preserve and park area owned by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and managed by Des Moines County Conservation.

The area features two miles of scenic hiking trails and is a place rich with natural and cultural history. It is also home to Starr's Cave Nature Center, the headquarters of Des Moines County Conservation's award-winning Environmental Education Program

Rock formations along Flint Creek in Starr’s Cave Park and Preserve are found nowhere else in the world. The bluffs are composed of limestone and dolomite and contain hints of the area’s past, frozen in time as fossils. These fossils include brachiopods, crinoids, cup coral, and gastropods. 

Besides Starr’s Cave itself there are two other caves: Devil’s Kitchen and Crinoid Cavern. Unlike Starr’s Cave, these two were not formed naturally but instead are manmade. Word has it that mineral prospectors were looking for zinc back in the 1920s. To see what lay behind the surface, they blasted the rock with dynamite, creating large openings for future park explorers to marvel at and explore.

The main cave within the park, Starr’s Cave, was formed naturally by water erosion and is approximately a football field in length. Those brave enough to venture inside have found themselves having to hunker down further and further until eventually in a belly slither. Upon reaching the small room at the end of the cave, visitors are relieved to find they are able to stand up and stretch their legs.

Along with humans, Starr’s Cave is also a popular bat hangout. It has been tradition for the cave to be closed to human traffic from April 1 to October 1 to let the bats hibernate without being bothered by people. However, Starr’s Cave is now closed indefinitely. 

In May of 2009, we had to close the cave to human traffic all year round in order to protect our Starr’s Cave bats from getting sick with a disease known as White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) caused by a fungus that likes the damp and dark cave environment. WNS has wiped out bat populations in many U.S states and we do not want to take the risk of visitors spreading WNS to our cave. The disease is mostly spread from bat to bat but also by humans unknowingly carry in the fungus on their shoes and flashlights (FYI: WNS is nothing humans can get). 

No one knows when the cave will reopen, it depends on scientists learning more about WNS and how to stop its spread. The good news is that those who visit are at least able to peek into the cave through the iron gate. 

Upcoming Events

January 15

All About Eagles

eagle - cr

Starr's Cave Nature Center
staff and special guest, Lori Carnes, will be at the Port of Burlington Welcome Center from 10:00am-12:00pm to answer all your eagle questions. After the program, participants and presenters may caravan to Lock and Dam 18 to view some eagles and check conditions for the Annual Eagle Count on January 25th. Binoculars will be available for loan.

January 25

Midwinter Bald Eagle Count


The Eagle Watching Caravan will roll out of the Port of Burlington on Saturday, January 25 to watch and count eagles. The caravan will leave the Port at 10:00 a.m., after a brief introduction on eagles by special guest, Lori Carnes. Lori Carnes is an eagle enthusiast and retired teacher who used bald eagles in her day to day curriculum for 9 years.

Event Info

February 13

Night Hike and Owl Prowl


This hour-and-a-half long program, led by a Des Moines County Conservation naturalist, will include a short presentation regarding owls and calling for barred owls using recorded calls. Then participants will head out for a 2-mile round trip night hike and, if all goes as planned, owl prowlers will hear owls talk back and might even get to see one swoop silently down for a closer look.

Event Info

February 27

Night Hike and Owl Prowl


This hour-and-a-half long program, led by a Des Moines County Conservation naturalist, will include a short presentation regarding owls and calling for barred owls using recorded calls. Then participants will head out for a 2-mile round trip night hike and, if all goes as planned, owl prowlers will hear owls talk back and might even get to see one swoop silently down for a closer look.  

Event Info