BOAT RAMP RENOVATIONS COMING TO BIG HOLLOW
As soon as the weather allows it to happen this coming spring, the boat ramp at Big Hollow Recreation Area will be rebuilt. The project is expected to take a week or two and will prevent boat access to the lake during construction.
Since the lake was built in 2008, the steepness of the boat ramp has been the number one complaint from boaters and anglers looking to recreate on the 178-acre lake. The slope, exceeding 18 percent on the bottom half, was just too much for some visitors. Generally, boat ramps such as those found at state parks, are built with 12-15 percent slopes. The reconstruction of the Big Hollow ramp will reduce its slope to about 15 percent.
"Three percent doesn't seem like much when you look at it on the engineer drawings," said Chris Lee, Des Moines County Conservation Executive Director. "But it will make a significant difference."
The ramp will be rebuilt with a single slope from the water to the parking area and will be made about ten feet longer. The project is slated to begin as soon as weather conditions allow for concrete to be poured. While the site is under construction, there will be no boat access to the lake as Big Hollow only has the one ramp.
The roughly $40,000 project was made possible by two private donations totaling $10,000 which were used as match for a Water Recreation Access Cost-Share Grant. Administered by the Iowa DNR, the Water Recreation Grant program is funded by taxes collected on marine fuel.
The boat ramp reconstruction project is the first of multiple projects we expect to complete in 2022 as part of the new Park Master Plan that was recently developed for Big Hollow. The plan identifies several million dollars worth of park improvements that will be implemented over the next several years such as road paving, improved lake accesses and trails, an expanded campground, lakefront cabins, and eventually, a new park headquarters and outdoor education facility at the park's entrance.
"This project is a perfect example of how private donations really make big projects possible," said Lee. "We were able to leverage these donations three-to-one. That's not uncommon for park and conservation projects. The grants are there, but most require a match. That's where private fundraising comes in. When we have the seed money, we can make big things happen."
For more information, or to contribute to future park developments, contact Des Moines County Conservation at (319) 753-8260 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIG HOLLOW BEACH IMPROVEMENTS COMING IN SPRING
Keeping the momentum going with Big Hollow’s Park Master Plan, the beach will also see some improvements this coming spring. Using park revenue and private donations, sidewalks will be added across the top and down both sides of the beach to improve accessibility. This was a top-priority recommendation from the Accessibility Task Force that was formed last fall to review the park’s amenities and make recommendations on how to improve their accessibility. The Park Master Plan emphasizes accessibility as a key component of future improvement and development.
In addition to sidewalks, floating booms will be installed around the swimming area to protect it from the floating algae that has been an increasing problem in the lake in recent years (learn more about the lake’s water quality here). The swimming area will also be professionally treated to keep out aquatic plants and algae that makes the area less attractive to swimmers.
PARK SPOTLIGHT: FEMA BUYOUT AREAS
Scattered throughout the eastern edge of the county, mostly along the Tama Road corridor are roughly 40 separate properties owned by the county. They vary in size from about a quarter acre to over 20 acres. These are known as FEMA Buyout Areas and with the exception of the one at the corner of Tama Road and Highway 99, they’re all closed to the public. The properties were purchased by FEMA after the 1993 flood and were given to the county to own and maintain after that. Per the deed restrictions, these properties must forever be owned by a public entity (such as the county) and are to be “maintained in perpetuity for uses compatible with open space, recreational, or wetlands management practices…” They may never be privately owned again and will never qualify for federal funding, even in the event of a natural disaster such as a flood.
Since receiving them, it has been the county’s stance that the properties be maintained, for the most part, as natural areas. Most of them are too small to develop as parks and with how disconnected they are, there are real maintenance and operational logistic problems to contend with were they to be developed. The largest tract - the one at the corner of Tama Road and Highway 99 - was opened to the public in 2015 and archery hunting is allowed there. Due to its proximity to the city and other homes and properties, firearms are not allowed on that property. It is the only parcel that allows for public use.
Over the last several years, the Conservation Board has repeatedly discussed possible uses of the properties but the deed restrictions and operational logistics involved have proven all the ideas infeasible thus far. So for now, these properties will continue to serve mostly as open space, natural areas, and wildlife habitat.
STARR'S CAVE EVENTS
Starr’s Cave staff members are gearing up for a new year of programming. The annual Midwinter Bald Eagle Watch is scheduled for Saturday, January 22nd. We’ll meet at the Port of Burlington for a brief introduction and program about eagles and then we’ll hit the road to Lock and Dam 18 for some eagle watching. We’re hoping for some cold weather to push the bald eagles down our way. There’s nowhere to go inside at Lock and Dam 18, so dress for the weather. Participants are encouraged to bring their own binoculars, but we have some to loan out as well. Check out our Facebook event for more details.
In February we’re celebrating owls! Our Owl Prowls have been so popular in the past we’ve decided to do more this year! We’ve got three naturalist-led owl prowls scheduled for February 3rd, 17th, and 24th. All three of these Owl Prowls are happening at different locations. February 3rd is at Starr’s Cave Nature Center, February 17th is at Big Hollow’s 300-meter shooting range, and February 24th is at Big Hollow’s Hickory Shelter. 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 and space is limited, so give us a call to save your spot!
Our afterschool club with PiECES at Aldo Leopold Intermediate School is a blast! So far this year we’ve discovered bugs, built Leopold Benches, played lots and lots of games, and tracked animals in the dark. We’re looking forward to learning about birds of prey, building bluebird boxes, and playing more games. We’re also at Starr’s Cave Nature Center the second Saturday of every month from Noon-3pm for PiECES programs. We offer a new, hands-on activity each month.
If Mother Nature cooperates, cross country skis are available to rent at the nature center when we have 4 or more inches of snow. When the trails get snowy, skis are a great way to enjoy the park!
The Nature Center is open 7:00am-2:00pm Tuesday-Friday. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for up-to-date hours and closures. Due to a busy schedule of programs, we encourage you to call before you stop by to make sure someone will be there. As always if you’re out here and the sign says “Open” feel free to stop in!
If you’re looking to volunteer, we have an opportunity for you. Do you like interacting with the public and talking with people about nature and outdoor recreation? Help us staff Starr’s Cave Nature Center! Do you like getting kids outside and teaching them new skills? We’d love your help at the Outdoor Youth Jamboree! Interested in helping Des Moines County Conservation reach new audiences, get more people outside, and make our parks even better? Help us run a fundraiser! If you’re interested in helping us head over to our website and fill out a volunteer contact form or give us a call!
Saturday, January 22 at 10 AM
Annual Bald Eagle Watch
The Annual Eagle Watching Caravan will roll out of the Port of Burlington on Saturday, January 22 to watch bald eagles at Lock and Dam 18. Des Moines County Conservation will lead the caravan out from the Port at 10:00 a.m., after a brief indoor presentation about eagles.
The Eagle Watching Caravan will begin at the Port of Burlington Welcome Center at 10 a.m., and last approximately 2 hours. Participants should plan on driving their own vehicles or carpooling with others to Lock and Dam 18. Birdwatchers will be given instruction in eagle identification.
Binoculars will be available for loan but participants are encouraged to bring their own.
Participants may leave the group at any time.
There is no fee or registration required for the program.
For more information please contact Starr’s Cave Nature Center at (319) 753-5808.
For more info, click Here.
Thursday, February 3 at 7PM
Night Hike and Owl prowl #1
This hour and a half-long program, led by a Des Moines County Conservation naturalist, will include a short presentation regarding owls and calling for barred owls using recorded calls. Then participants will head out for a 2-mile round trip night hike and, if all goes as planned, owl prowlers will hear owls talk back and might even get to see one swoop silently down for a closer look. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Silent listening is required.
Space is limited. Registration is required. To register, contact Starr’s Cave Nature Center at (319) 753-5808.
For more info, click Here.
Friday, February 11 at 7 PM
Pieces owl prowl
Join Starr's Cave staff for a PiECES Exclusive Owl Prowl at Big Hollow Recreation Area!
Meet at the 300m range parking lot at Big Hollow at 7:00pm for a presentation and a hike to look and listen for owls.
Is transportation a problem? We can help with that! A bus will be leaving Burlington High School at 6:30pm and returning at 8:30pm!
Call Fiona to register for this program! 319-753-9600 ext. 2620.
For more info, click Here.
Thursday, February 17 at 7 PM
Night hike and owl prowl #2
This hour and a half-long program, led by a Des Moines County Conservation naturalist, will include a short presentation regarding owls and calling for barred owls using recorded calls. Then participants will head out for a 2-mile round trip night hike and, if all goes as planned, owl prowlers will hear owls talk back and might even get to see one swoop silently down for a closer look.
Children must be accompanied by an adult. Silent listening is required.
Meet at Big Hollow's Hickory Shelter.
Space is limited. Registration is required.
To register, contact Starr’s Cave Nature Center at (319) 753-5808.
For more info, click Here.