Summer 2021

Big Hollow Master Plan Unveiled

After a multi-year planning process, we have completed a new park master plan for Big Hollow Recreation Area, our most popular 2021 BH Master Plan Web-1park. While the plan consists of many different projects that will be completed in the park over the years, it is built around four key elements: 

  • Improved Accessibility: Paved roads, trails, and lake accesses to the beach and fishing sites; improved boat ramp and docks; accessibility to all buildings

  • Improved/Expanded Features: More campsites; expanded and improved trail system; expanded maintenance capacity and improved maintenance facilities

  • New Facilities: Lakefront cabins; new maintenance building; Park Office & Outdoor Learning Center facility

  • Clean Water: Completion of a federally approved watershed plan; implementation of practices to reduce nutrient runoff resulting in less algae and better water quality in the lake

The plan is incredibly ambitious. All told, it outlines about $10 million worth of investments in the park. The rate at which the projects happen depend on our ability to secure funding and grow our maintenance and operational capacity commensurately with the new and expanded facilities. 

That’s where you come in. 

Community support has built Big Hollow into what it is today. The majority of the funding that built the lake, the campground, and other associated features came from donations, grants, and revenue generated from park visitors. Many individuals, businesses, and organizations have contributed time and money to make Big Hollow into the great park it is. Going forward, we know the incredible community support the park has will help us build it into a World-Class Park together. 

To learn more about the plans for making Big Hollow a World-Class Park, check out the Master Plan page on our website.

Environmental Education Strategic Plan Updated

Kids playing in creek during DMCC summer camp.How do we make sure our education programs are high quality and impactful? How do we reach people in our community that don’t normally attend our programs? How do we best allocate staff time to environmental education programming while balancing quality and quantity of programs delivered?

These are questions we constantly ask ourselves and such questions guide the priorities outlined in our Five-Year Environmental Education (EE) Strategic Plan, an internal document that we use to establish goals and strategies to best deliver EE programming here in Des Moines County. You may remember several years ago we began making significant changes to our EE program. We renovated the nature center, developed and installed new educational exhibits, and made significant updates to our program curricula. During that time, we also developed a new five-year strategic plan to guide our EE priorities and programs. It’s been five years already so we just finished updating the plan to set our sights on the next five years.

While much of the original priorities remain the same such as the development of rotating nature center exhibits and the continual improvement of our programs based on participant and teacher feedback, we added some new priorities in this plan largely focused on reaching new and underserved audiences. In this new plan, a key focus is finding ways to make our parks and programs more inclusive, more diverse

Teaching elementary students about nature then not reaching them again until they bring their kids to summer camp twenty years later is not effective at cultivating tomorrow’s conservation leaders. Not that our elementary programs and summer camps are not important. They most certainly are. It’s critical to introduce children to nature at a young age. But if those kids are not engaged in the outdoors through their middle, high school, and college years and beyond, they’re not likely to develop the land ethic we’re striving to instill in the community. 

Furthermore, our public programs are generally well attended but anecdotally, the participant demographics economically skew heavily toward middle-class, and racially toward white. 

This is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that there are large portions of the county population that we’re not reaching. If our goal is to develop an environmentally responsible community, we need to reach the community at large. While residents of Des Moines County are 93% white, the county’s largest population center, Burlington, is only 81.2% white (as of 2010 census). 

How can we do better? 

That’s the question we ask more than answer in this new plan. We do outline some strategies for addressing the question, though, such as partnering with the Burlington School District’s after school program and developing more “immersive” or expedition-style camps such as wilderness treks to the Boundary Waters and other places to better engage older youth and even adults. 

Our hope is by connecting with underserved demographics via programs in our parks and with our staff, we will not only introduce new people to the joys of the natural world, but we can have the necessary conversations to help us understand what it will take to make our parks and programs more inclusive. It won’t happen overnight and there will almost certainly be missteps along the way. But that’s the price of progress and our community certainly deserves that kind of investment.

Highway Construction to Close Back Trail Access 

If you’ve been up Highway 61 north of Burlington anytime recently, you’ve noticed there’s plenty of construction activity in the area.Construction As construction crews prepare to replace the existing highway lanes and bridge over Flint Creek, the entrance to the back side of Starr’s Cave Park and Preserve will be closed off. The little parking lot that is currently accessible from the highway won’t be accessible while that part of the highway is being replaced. We don’t know exactly when it will get closed but we’re told it will be this summer. 

Though this will prevent access to many people’s favorite trail segment, those trails will still be accessible from the nature center. Additionally, the same project that installs the new highway bridge over Flint Creek will also extend the trail under the bridges and connect to the new trail segment on the west side of the new highway lanes, ultimately connecting Starr’s Cave’s portion of the Flint River Trail the the rest of the trail route on Flint Bottom Road west of the highway. 

As noted, we’re uncertain of timing so keep an eye on our Facebook page for up-to-date information. 

Federal Funds Available for Park Improvements?

Des Moines County will receive over $7 million of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. While there are several ways in which these funds can be used by counties, one way they can be used is to expand sewer, water, and broadband infrastructure. We have recommended that the Board of Supervisors (BOS), who hold the spending authority for the funds, allocate some of those dollars to Des Moines County Conservation to address some of our strategic park improvement priorities. Specifically, we’ve recommended investing in:

  • Expanding water and sewer infrastructure at Big Hollow to accommodate the eventual expansion of campgrounds and the addition of cabins as outlined in our park master plan and department strategic plan.

  • Adding water and sewer infrastructure to the campground at the 4th Pumping Station. This would allow us to upgrade existing sites to full hook-up sites and eventually add a shower house as per our department strategic plan.

  • Run broadband to Starr’s Cave Nature Center which has struggled with connectivity issues for years due to its remote location.

The final rules regarding how funds may be used have yet to come out but we feel it is important to be prepared to take advantage of this opportunity to invest in the improvement of our parks. If you have other ideas as to how these funds may be used to benefit parks and recreation in our county, please send them our way (email us at You can also help make investment in your county parks a priority by expressing your support for such investment to the Board of Supervisors. Email them at