Summer is finally here and with it comes summer camp! We’re so excited to be able to offer camps, however, they will be running a bit differently this season. Due to COVID-19, SCNC staff is following guidance from the American Camp Association, Center for Disease Control, and Association of Camp Nursing to provide a safe summer camp experience. Environmental Health & Engineering has produced the Field Guide for Camps on Implementation of CDC Guidance (field guide) for the American Camp Association and Y-USA. This document provides good, better, and best practices many topics including health screening, cleaning and disinfection, and activities. SCNC staff will be using this field guide to plan for camps and implement necessary procedures/practices and will strive to meet the best practice when applicable. Camp capacity has been reduced to facilitate proper social distancing. Participants with have their temperatures checked each day at drop-off.
We are still hosting monthly Paddle in the Park programs at Big Hollow Recreation Area. Those dates can be found on the Des Moines County Conservation website and the Starr’s Cave Nature Center Facebook page. Registration is required for Paddle in the Park and opens two weeks before the program.
Nature at Night is coming up on July 22nd at Starr’s Cave Nature Center from 8:30-9:30pm. This public program will be led by the Des Moines County Conservation Summer Naturalist. The program is free and is for all ages. Space is limited and registration is required. This event is outdoors, and some hiking will be required. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Call Starr’s Cave Nature Center at 753-5808 to reserve your spot and register for the event.
Due to a busy schedule of programs, field trips, and summer camps, Starr’s Cave Nature Center is open by appointment only Monday through Friday. However, we are open on Saturdays from 8:00am to 4:00pm and on Sundays from Noon to 4:00 pm. As always, if you are visiting and the sign says “open,” feel free to stop in and say hello!
Notes from the field
Though we certainly aren’t out of the woods yet when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, local authorities have lifted many of the restrictions that were put in place over the past couple months. Following suit, we have opened all our facilities including Starr’s Cave Nature Center, our Main Office, all campgrounds and associated facilities including the shower house at Big Hollow. However, we do still have some restrictions at some buildings. Namely, only the first floor of the nature center is open to the public and the Off-Grid Cabin at Big Hollow is restricted to one rental per week, with no rentals being allowed through the middle of the week to allow time for cleaning between rentals.
We will continue to monitor the situation and post changes and announcements through our various social channels including Des Moines County Conservation’s Facebook page and Starr’s Cave Nature Center’s Facebook page.
Featured Park: River Accesses
Our county is bound on two sides by rivers. So naturally, we maintain places that give you access to those waters. Des Moines County Conservation manages four boat ramps on the Mississippi River and one on the Skunk River.
From north to south, the boat ramps we maintain on the Mississippi are Hawkeye Dolbee and Casey Barrow which provide access to Pool 18, and Tama and Sullivan Slough which provide access to Pool 19. On the Skunk River, we provide a ramp at Welter Recreation Area’s Cottonwood Loop.
Access to these boat ramps is heavily influenced by river levels. Tama is our ramp with the lowest elevation at the river’s edge. The actual ramp is only accessible when the river level at Burlington is 10.5 feet or less, which seems to be a rarity these days. Sullivan Slough and Hawkeye Dolbee ramps become inaccessible when the river gets to within about 18 inches of flood stage. But Casey Barrow, the only ramp we have built on the side of a levee, is accessible at most river stages up to and even above flood stage.
Most of our boat ramps were damaged by the extensive flooding last year. We received FEMA assistance to re-rock the parking areas at Sullivan Slough, Tama, and Hawkeye Dolbee. Bids were awarded to contractors in early spring for those projects as well as repairs to sections of the Flint River Trail, the trails at Starr’s Cave, and Maple Loop at Welter Recreation Area. We’re now awaiting favorable river levels to finish the work at the three boat ramps.
As with all water recreation activities, we encourage boaters to be safe. Take extra caution when river levels are high and always wear a life jacket.
Every year we hire seasonal employees and interns to help us with various aspects of our operations. This year our field team is joined by first-year interns Ryle Koenig and Kamryn Wittkop and first-year seasonal technician Marissa Purdum. They join intern Tanner Gebhardt who has joined our field team for a second summer and seasonal technician Zach Hunter, now in his fourth term with us.
At Starr’s Cave Nature Center, first-year intern Marie Masden joins us to help with our education programming and summer camps.
We also have another change to our permanent staff. After almost six years with us, Park Ranger John Mercer has left our department to pursue a career as a real estate agent here in Burlington. We have hired Ryan Roth as our new Park Ranger. He has an Associates of Applied Science Degree in Parks & Natural Resource Management from Kirkwood Community College and bachelor’s degrees in Conservation Management and Human Resource Management from Upper Iowa University. Ryan has worked seasonally as a Maintenance Technician at multiple state and city parks in Iowa and Colorado and has worked as a Park Ranger with the US Army Corps of Engineers in North Dakota. He is a certified EMT and currently serves as a Combat Medic Specialist in the National Guard. Ryan will start his new career as Des Moines County Conservation’s lead Park Ranger in mid-July. We wish John Mercer all the best in this next phase of his career and look forward to Ryan joining our team.
Annual Report Coming Soon
In August we will publish our Annual Report for the past fiscal year which began on July 1, 2019 and ended June 30, 2020. These reports summarize our activities and accomplishments over the course of the fiscal year and provide data on park and facility visitation, revenues and expenditures, and any program and participant data, among other things. Upon completion, the report will first be presented to the County Conservation Board at its regular meeting on August 5 and then to the County Board of Supervisors at a regular meeting following that. The report itself will be published on the Newsletter page on our website with hard copies available free of charge at our main office in West Burlington.
A Park Leader’s Favorite Day
An editorial from our Director, Chris Lee
I recently had one of those moments that reminded me exactly why I chose to work for county conservation. It was one of those moments that makes you smile so big and makes your heart swell so much that my wife noticed even without me saying anything.