Fall 2020

Starr’s Cave Gets New Bouldering Wall

IMG_3037Local climbing enthusiasts are excited about the new “bouldering wall” at Starr’s Cave Nature Center constructed by Will Neises as an Eagle Scout project. Rather than a vertical climb which requires special harnesses and belaying equipment, the new climbing feature is a traverse – or bouldering – wall that requires climbers to work their way horizontally along the wall using hand and foot holds that mimic those found on rock cliff faces. The entire course can be navigated with the climber no more than a few feet above the ground, making it safer and more accessible to climbers of any age or experience level.

Eagle Scout Will Neises and his scout mates from Troop 3 invested over 100 collective hours in the planning and construction of the facility, a project that was initiated over a year ago under the advisement of former Environmental Education Coordinator Kent Rector.

Once Will had completed the wall, Des Moines County Conservation staff added a wood chipped landing zone below it to further improve safety and aesthetics.

For more information on the bouldering wall or climbing activities at Starr’s Cave, contact Environmental Education Coordinator Kelly Rundell at the Nature Center at (319) 753-5808 or by email at rundellk@dmcounty.com.

FEMA work complete; Tama walkway removed

Boat RampThe FEMA work to repair the boat ramps at Sullivan Slough, Tama Beach, and Hawkeye Dolbee River Accesses is complete and all the river accesses docks are out, including Casey Barrow. The three ramps sustained significant damage during last year’s major flood and the county received FEMA assistance to repair them. Contractors were hired to repair the damage to the ramps as well as damage at Welter Recreation Area Maple Loop and some spots on the Flint River Trail. The boat ramps were re-graded and re-rocked as part of the project.

Additionally, with the Mississippi River fairly low, DMCC crews took the opportunity to demolish the concrete walkway at Tama Beach River Access. The walkway had been constructed decades ago to attach the dock to, but in recent years the river has been staying higher for longer than in the past. Once the river got above about 10.5 feet the dock could no longer attach to the walkway and the walkway would go underwater at river stages above about 11 feet. This made it a hazard to boaters using the ramp which remained accessible to river stages up to about 14 feet. With the walkway removed, the hazard has been eliminated and the dock can be left out even as the river typically fluctuates.

This fall, DMCC will be applying for a Water Recreation Access Cost-Share Grant to purchase new dock sections for the Tama and Sullivan Slough ramps.

Linder Pond Renovation Complete Linder pond

The reconstruction of the pond at the Linder Conservation Area is now complete. The pond was drained in the spring and completely rebuilt this summer. The new pond is larger, deeper, features a jetty, and rock-lined areas of shoreline for better fish habitat. The pond will be stocked by the Iowa DNR with bluegill, crappie, bass, and catfish once it fills sufficiently.

90 percent of the project was funded by a state Fish Habitat Grant, monies for which are derived from fishing license sales. In the past few years, Fish Habitat Grants have funded the pond renovation at Leopold Recreation Area in 2017 and built the new pond next to the campground at Big Hollow Recreation Area in 2019. Both ponds have been stocked with fish. You can see a brief video of the area on our YouTube Channel.

Flint River Trail to Cross Under Highway 61

IMG_3037Our newest segment of the Flint River Trail is about to expand even further. The trail through Starr’s Cave Park and Preserve was completed in 2018 and is easily the most popular segment, especially the paved part on the back side of the preserve just off Highway 61. Recently, DMCC crews connected the paved trail to the parking lot just off the highway with a rocked surfaced trail spur. But more is on the way…

As the Highway 61 four-lane expansion project proceeds, the crews that are building the highway will extend the existing trail west, taking it under the highway bridges and looping it up cloverleaf-style onto the southbound bridge. The trail will then cross the creek on that bridge via a dedicated trail lane separated from the highway traffic (similar to the design on Highway 99 above Bluff Harbor Marina in Burlington) and terminate at Flint Bottom Road on the west side of the highway. From there, cyclists and trail users can follow Flint Bottom Road west and north and pick up the Flint River Trail again at the intersection of Flint Bottom and North Prairie Grove Road. That seven-mile segment of trail extends all the way to Big Hollow Recreation Area.

The completion of the highway crossing will remove the largest barrier to a continuous Flint River Trail route. While we do hope to get more segments of the trail route off-road in the future, this connection will create a completely rideable corridor from Burlington’s riverfront to Big Hollow.

DMCC Welcomes New Natural Resource Manager

Will Wagner-Ertz has joined the team at Des Moines County Conservation as the new Natural Resource Manager. He takes over for Erik Murry who resigned in early August.

Will is a Burlington native with a family history in the conservation field. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in Forestry. Most recently he worked with landowners as a Soil Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Minnesota. Prior to that, he worked various positions with the Oregon Department of Forestry, the Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, and a private forestry consultancy in New Mexico. Will looks forward to returning to the homeland to make a difference here in Des Moines County.

DMCC’s Natural Resource Manager is tasked with developing and executing natural resource management strategies within the county’s park system as well as working with local landowners to design and complete habitat management projects on their lands. For more information on how you can implement conservation practices to improve your land for local wildlife, contact Will at (319) 572-6865 or via email at Wagner-ErtzW@dmcounty.com.

Cheers to Our Great Volunteers!

Even though we were unable to host a formal volunteer recognition event this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, we still wanted to recognize some of the past year’s outstanding volunteers.

This year’s Volunteer of Year Award went to Bill & Jan Lippert, camp hosts at the 4th Pumping Station campground. Bill and Jan have been camping there for decades, even prior to the area becoming a county park. For the last two years, they have served as the park’s camp hosts and have done an outstanding job. They are beloved by the regular campers and go out of their way to keep the park looking great and ensuring that all visitors have the best time possible.

Our Volunteer Group of the Year Award was given to the Flint River Bowhunters Club. This small but dedicated group of individuals maintains the 3-D archery range at Big Hollow, hosts monthly shoots, and goes above and beyond the call of duty in helping with DMCC’s various events. They are regular volunteers at the annual Youth Jamboree event, they help with Hunter Education and various other shooting events and have even hosted their own youth mentoring programs in an effort to get more youth involved in archery.

The Environmental Educator of the Year Award was awarded to Lori Carnes. Lori is an eagle enthusiast and retired teacher who used bald eagles in her day to day curriculum for 9 years. During her time in the school, she continually invited Starr’s Cave staff to teach in her classroom and to learn alongside her students as she taught them about eagles. Lori took over DMCC’s annual Bald Eagle Watch and increased it to four programs rather than just one. She is currently working with Raptor Research Project on their education committee and visiting classrooms to assist with adding eagles into their daily curriculum. 

And finally, we added a special award this year – an Outstanding Service Award, which we presented to Ron Wooldridge for the exceptional service and dedication he’s shown to our department over the years. Whenever we need hauling services, wherever we need some rock hauled, whenever our own equipment is broken down (which is often!), we call Ron. He’s always quick to get us what we need and on numerous occasions he’s donated his services as we’ve improved Big Hollow over the years. His service didn’t really fit into any of our existing award categories but his dedication to the county park system is outstanding and we wanted to recognize him accordingly, so we added this special award this year.

Volunteers really are critical to our operations. They help with everything from field work, to youth programs, to department administration. Des Moines County Conservation appreciates all the volunteers that help us throughout the year, and we look forward to being able to recognize everyone in person at next year’s volunteer recognition event. You can watch the presentation videos on our YouTube Channel

Environmental education update

MonarchStarr’s Cave staff members are doing their best to support educators this school year. Unfortunately, Covid-19 is preventing Starr’s Cave staff from teaching in schools at this time. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to teach, staff members have been working to create videos for teachers and students. Some videos are made so educators can teach along with the video as students watch it, and some are made to be sent to students and used at home. We’re also sharing some of our lesson write-ups with teachers so they can teach our content as well.

Starr’s Cave staff caught, tagged, and released 100 monarch butterflies this fall. Monarch butterflies are tagged for Monarch Watch, a citizen science project to track their migration. Monarchs travel much farther on their migration than any other butterflies-up to 3,000 miles! Each captured monarch receives a tag with a unique code. After the new year, we will begin checking the Monarch Watch website to see if any of our monarchs have been spotted!

Beginning October 1, the first floor of Starr’s Cave Nature Center will be open by appointment only. As always, if you’re visiting the park and the nature center is open, stop in to say hello!