Winter 2021

Notes From The Field

Reserve campsites, cabin now

It may not feel like camping season but right now is a great time to plan this year's outings. The campsites and cabin at Big Hollow can be reserved up to a year in advance. Some weekends this summer are already filling up so log on now and reserve your site or book your stay. Reservations are all done online through

DMCC is on YouTube

Did you know we have a YouTube channel? Now you do. ytlogo

We hadn't used it much prior to the pandemic but this year we added several videos about various parks and outdoor topics that you may enjoy watching. Since we couldn't be in schools or host field trips or other programs, we went digital with our environmental education programming. We also made some videos highlighting some of our parks. We plan to do more so be sure to subscribe to our channel and if you enjoy watching, give us a "like" and share.

Watching these first several videos, you'll likely notice that we aren't exactly Disney when it comes to video editing. We're conservationists, educators, park and recreation professionals. We have little to no experience making videos. That said, we'd love your help...

If you or someone you know is savvy with editing software and would like to donate some time putting some short videos together for us, please let us know. We feel there's a lot of outreach value in digital content and we'd like to produce more but that's just really out of our area of expertise. So we're hoping to maybe partner with someone who enjoys making videos and has a knack for editing. If that's you (or someone you know), contact Environmental Education Coordinator Kelly Rundell at Starr's Cave Nature Center at (319) 753-5808 or via email at

DMCC Applies for Grant to Improve River Access

river croppedDes Moines County Conservation has applied for a Water Recreation Access Cost-Share Grant to replace the boat docks at Sullivan Slough and Tama Beach River Accesses. If awarded, the grant will cover 75% of the cost of a new dock at Sullivan Slough and 100% of the dock at Tama since that property is owned by the state and managed by DMCC. The new docks will be similar to the current ones used at those locations but will be one section longer, allowing them to float up and down as the river level fluctuates without staff having to manually pull them in and push them out.

Funds for this grant are generated from marine fuel taxes. This grant source has funded numerous other DMCC projects in the past including various boat ramps and boat docks at several county parks and river accesses.

DMCC will be notified as to whether we received the grants or not sometime later in the month. If successful, the new docks will be ordered and should arrive in time to be deployed as soon as the river goes down enough to put docks out in the spring.

Will You Choose to Make This Year Better?BH Trail

This modified op ed from our Director was originally published in his Living Land Column in The Hawk Eye on Christmas Day. All of his columns can be found on his blog at

I keep hearing everyone say how 2021 will be better. And it may be. The vaccines currently rolling out might send coronavirus into the history books like polio. We might get back to normal, whatever that means.

Or we might not. We might find the vaccines lose effectiveness over long periods of time. Or the virus may mutate, rendering the vaccines ineffective. We may have to continue wearing masks and social distancing for another year. Or more.

Even if everything goes as planned, those of us that are relatively healthy and not at high risk are looking at a good six months or more before we’re even offered the vaccine. We’ll be late into 2021 at a minimum before we reach “critical mass” as far as having enough people vaccinated to allow us to put the masks away and start hugging again.

Yes, 2021 may be better, but January isn’t going to be much different than December was.

So that leaves us to deal with our current situation. We’re isolated. We haven’t seen friends and family in what seems like ages. Many of us didn’t even get together for Christmas. Home Alone 2020, Lost in Pandemic.

But it’s the new year and it’s up to us to decide whether it’s going to be a better year or not. There are things we can’t control, but for the things we can, it’s time for some resolutions.

Or just one. I suggest making one resolution that supersedes all others: Spend more time outside.

101541777_4139885329384876_6563803551436211521_oWant to spend more time with friends and family this year? Schedule gatherings outside. Six feet of social distance feels close in a big open park. Outdoors, you don’t have to worry about breathing each other’s recirculated air. Take the masks off and share some smiles. Many parks in the area offer shelter houses that you can rent for your gathering. At county parks, we’ve had families rent campsites and cabins just for birthday parties or family gatherings.

Now is a great time to coordinate schedules, make reservations, and get those gatherings on the calendar.

Want to get in better shape? Resolve to walk or bike nearby trails. A fellow conservation director I know does a thing where he and his wife go on at least 52 hikes a year. They mostly go to nearby parks and wildlife areas but they throw in some traveling for good measure. They snap pictures along the way and post them to social media so folks like me can envy their resolve.

You’d be surprised at the number of trails, parks, woods, and routes for an afternoon walk you can find close to home. What’s better is you don’t need a membership and you can take the kids. And the dog. And invite friends. Out on the trail, it’s almost like it’s 2019 again. Remember those days?

Want to get your mind right? Improve mental health? See above. The benefits of time spent outdoors, especially in natural settings, warrant their own informercial at a minimum. Maybe even a dedicated TV channel. Probably a Netflix series. Science has only begun to understand the power of the natural world in reducing stress, boosting immune function, mitigating anxiety and depression, calming ADHD, and just overall making us happier. Physicians around the world have begun prescribing time outdoors to treat a host of modern maladies.

Lucky for us, we live in flyover country and not in one of those coastal concrete jungles. We measure social distancing in acres and even residents of our “big cities” are generally only minutes away from a sizeable chunk of nature to bask in. So what’s stopping you?

BH SunsetWant to eat better? Start planning a garden. Don’t have a plot of dirt to plant things in? Buy pots and find a window. Or find a community garden. Or Zoom call with some neighbors and make plans to start one. Go fishing. With said neighbors. Eat food that the natural world provides. You know exactly how many places there are to fish around here? Me neither, but it’s a bunch. And fishing, like almost everything outside, is another one of those things that gets better with friends, kids, grandkids, neighbors and sometimes, even complete strangers.

Remember, we’re all one community wading through these crazy times together.

There will be a lot in the coming year we can’t control, for better and for worse. But we can control how we choose to spend our time. We can choose to spend it lamenting all the things we can’t, or shouldn’t, do. Or we can choose to make the most of the times and place we’re in, get off the couch and start living life. Make that choice and you can bet 2021 will most certainly be better.

What’s your resolution going to be?

Winter Environmental Education Update

SCNC WinterStarr’s Cave staff members are gearing up for outdoor, socially distanced programs this winter. The annual Midwinter Bald Eagle Watch is scheduled for Saturday, January 23. Due to group size restrictions, the program will look a bit different this year. First, registration is required so call Starr’s Cave Nature Center to get registered! Second, instead of meeting at the Port of Burlington and driving together to Lock and Dam 18, the entire program will be at Lock and Dam 18. We will be outdoors the entire time, so dress for the weather!

In February we’re celebrating owls! We’ve got two naturalist-led owl prowls scheduled on February 11 and February 25. On these prowls participants will learn about some of the most common owls we have in our area and, with any luck, hear them calling to find mates. We’ll have a campfire and go for about a 2-mile hike. Registration is required, so give us a call to save your spot!

The park and trails are still open, so come on out to enjoy the wonderful winter weather. If Mother Nature cooperates, cross country skis are available for rent at the nature center. When the trails get snowy, skis are a great way to enjoy the park!

Currently, our Environmental Education staff is working to create new programs to offer this spring. Many of these new programs will feature some of our lesser-known parks. Keep an eye on our Facebook page to learn more about these programs!