Spring 2020

Regarding the COVID-19 Situation…

What’s open...

  • All open-space park areas
  • All water accesses, including: Big Hollow Lake, 4th Pumping Station lake, fishing jetties, all boat ramps including river accesses if accessible.
  • All trails
  • The Big Hollow Shooting Range
  • RV Campgrounds effective 05/08/2020
  • All campgrounds
  • Pit Restrooms

What’s Closed...

These closures in effect until at least June 8, 2020.

  • The off-grid cabin
  • All DMCC office facilities
  • The shower house
  • The Observatory
  • Starr’s Cave Nature Center
  • All programming / public events cancelled until further notice.

Our top priority has been and will continue to be the health and well-being of Des Moines County Conservation and Starr’s Cave Nature Center visitors, program attendees, volunteers, and staff.

In response to the ongoing development of COVID-19, we have decided to close Starr’s Cave Nature Center and the main office doors to the public, as well as pause the majority of our public programming. In addition, in accordance with a directive by the Govenor of Iowa on April 6, 2020, all recreational campgrounds will be closed until at least April 30, 2020. While our building doors may be closed, our parks and trails will remain open. We recognize the value of parks and outdoor spaces, especially at a time like this, and will do our best to continue to provide such amenities while maintaining the health and safety of our employees and visitors.

Staff will still be working, so emails will be answered, shooting range memberships can still be renewed online and we will be in the office answering calls. In light of the necessary social isolation on account of this pandemic, we encourage you to take the time to get outdoors in your favorite county park. We simply ask that you continue to follow the CDC recommendations regarding social distancing and personal hygiene.

These facility closures will be in effect until further notice. Obviously, this is a fluid situation, so as details emerge, we will pass them on. Follow Des Moines County Conservation and Starr’s Cave Nature Center on Facebook for up to date information.


There’s a Park for That

A lighter take on the Coronavirus/COVID-19 situation from our Director
Are you tired of being cooped up inside, working from home, hiding from a public enemy no one can see?

There’s a park for that. Just about everyone in Des Moines County is within a 15 or 20 minute drive of a county park. And most of those parks feature woods or trails and enough space that social distancing could be measured in acres. According to the Trust for Public Land, 47 percent of Burlington residents live within a ten-minute walk of a park. More than half of West Burlingtonians – 51 percent – have a park within a ten-minute walk.

Are you worried about this existential threat the likes of which we’ve never seen and barely understand? Anxiety levels running a little high right now? Need some space now that you and your spouse are forced to work from the same coffee table?

BH TrailThere’s a park for that.

Science tell us that some of the best treatments for anxiety include sunshine, fresh air, exercise, and exposure to a natural environment. Throughout the world, physicians have been increasingly prescribing time in parks and natural areas as treatments for such things. Yes, prescribing. Like medicine. Some places even have certified forest trails for this. Research shows exposure to natural environments can also mitigate depression and increase immune function. It’s no vaccine, but some time in the woods may be just what the doctor ordered right about now.

And really, who needs to worry about catching the bug when you’re separated by acres of the very things that have been cleaning our air for millennia?

Are you worried about your kids during this pandemic? Not that they’ll catch the virus, more that they risk you finally flipping your lid the next time they barge naked into your department-wide Zoom meeting yelling “poopy!” before you can mute the mic and kill the webcam feed.

There’s a park for that. Well, kind of. We don’t condone running naked in the woods (at least not in public parks, anyway), but giving kids places to burn off some of that pent-up energy and cabin fever (while fully clothed) is pretty much why county parks exist.

The social distancing rules we’re all now used to also apply out in the woods and on the trails. Let other hikers know you’re approaching so you both can keep the required distance. Same goes for pets. I’m pretty sure dogs don’t get sick from coronavirus, but they could transport it to those of us that can.

Yes, this situation is a mess. We are all anxious and the isolation isn’t going to help. But it is, as far as I know, safe to breathe the air. So get outside. Get some exercise and some sun. Sure, you should avoid centralized places like playgrounds and of course maintain a safe distance from other park goers. But hiking a trail or walking in the woods or canoeing a lake offers plenty of separation. It just doesn’t feel as isolating as being cooped up inside. In fact, there can be a sense of togetherness in sharing wide open spaces, even with ample social distancing.

And a little togetherness is something we could all use right now. Luckily, there’s a park for that.

Park Spotlight – Hickory Bend

hickory Opens in new windowHickory Bend Conservation Area is probably the most remote, and one of the most undeveloped areas in the county’s park system. It is managed exclusively for natural resources and wildlife.

The Flint River Trail skirts the eastern edge of the property and a spur off the trail at the very north end of the property goes up to a volunteer-built shelter at the top of a hill with a stunning view of the creek and valley below. This is the only developed site on the whole property. The rest of the area is left for wildlife, making it a popular destination for hunters and wildlife watchers. DMCC staff do plant the occasional food plot on the property to further enhance the wildlife benefit (including sometimes sunflowers for doves).

The original property consisted of a mostly forested 130-acre tract of land then called Thye Woods. The property was expanded by 52 acres in 2009 with funds from multiple Pheasants Forever chapters, local donors, and a Wildlife Habitat Stamp Grant. It was then renamed Hickory Bend in recognition of the mature hickories that dominate much of its forests and the U-shaped bend in Flint Creek directly south of the property.

In 2018, the Iowa Department of Transportation purchased on behalf of the county the 62 acres of adjacent fields to the southeast of the existing property to mitigate the stream and forest impacts from the Highway 61 four-lane project north of Burlington. As part of the mitigation, the DOT had contractors construct some shallow wetland basins and planted nearly the entire area to trees. The area was added to the existing complex, bringing the whole acreage to approximately 244 acres.

Staff Changes at Starr’s Cave Nature Center

Rundell-sqIn March, Kent Rector left his position as Environmental Education Coordinator at Des Moines County Conservation. In his almost-seven years leading the department’s education programming, he oversaw extensive renovations to the nature center, expanded the scope and reach of many DMCC education programs, and modernized the curriculum used in many of those programs, among other things.

Kelly Rundell, who has been the Naturalist since 2018 was promoted to take over for Kent as Environmental Education Coordinator. We then took and reviewed applications for the Naturalist position and selected Marcus Nack to fill that role. Marcus received his Master’s degree in Environmental Education and Interpretation from University of Wisconsin – Steven’s Point in 2018. He has worked as a naturalist, camp counselor, and instructor at various facilities since 2011. He will begin his new career as the Naturalist at Des Moines County Conservation in May.

EE Update

Starr's Cave Nature CenterOur new year started off with birds of prey here at Starr’s Cave Nature Center. January brought us Lori Canes and three amazing eagle programs. February had a balmy owl prowl with a very vocal screech owl. Now March has brought us a bit of a pause from programming. We’re using this time to clean, paint, and prep because once this is all over, we’ll be back in classrooms, hosting field trips, and getting ready for spring and summer programs!

Summer camp registration is set to go live Tuesday, April 28th at midnight. Live links will be posted on the Starr’s Cave Nature Center and Des Moines County Conservation Facebook pages. For best results use an updated Google Chrome or Safari as your web browser.

This summer we have two sessions of Polliwog Camp (Ages 3-4) available. This is a two-day camp to help introduce your child to the wonders of nature. Each day will feature a nature hike, craft, or story, as well as hands-on nature learning.

We will be hosting our Trailblazers Camp for students ages 13-15 again this summer. This is a 4-day camp with two overnights camping in Yellow River State Forest. We will spend one day in orientation reviewing equipment, safety, and team building in preparation for a three-day, two-night camping experience in one of Iowa’s most pristine forests. Campers will explore both Yellow River State Forest and Effigy Mounds National Monument.  Campers will hike, fish, forage, and have fun.  Students will learn about natural and human history while acquiring valuable outdoor-living and safety skills. Campers will learn to work together to accomplish goals and challenges, building confidence and trust, both in themselves and in others.