I was privileged to attend a reception for local legislators last week at McFarland Park. Thanks is due to the state, county and local elected officials who attended. The session focused on conservation and outdoor recreation. We all heard presentations on things that had been accomplished, things that were being done and things that still needed to be addressed. At a time when news tends to focus on all that isn’t being done, the list of recent accomplishments in our area was pretty impressive. One of the main reasons it was impressive is that virtually every project included the cooperation of multiple levels of government, private organizations and individuals. The point was made repeatedly that conservation and outdoor recreation are not, and should not be, partisan issues. The success stories shared required the active support and cooperation of Republicans, Democrats and independents.
A sampling of some of the recently completed projects includes the High Trestle Trail that touches southwest Story County at Slater. It was a complex multi-year project that at times seemed almost undo-able. It involved years of fundraising and dedicated support from state, county and local officials. It couldn’t have happened without the visionary leadership of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. They coordinated all the complex pieces of the puzzle and kept people focused on the long-term goal. It now brings thousands of visitors to the area and has spawned the opening of several new business establishments. The trail from Ankeny, through Slater, and on to Madrid and Woodward, added another key element to the growing Central Iowa Trail Network, an interlinked system of trails that is becoming a national trail recreation destination.
The new Dakins Lake project is under construction at Zearing. This project, too, required years of planning and fundraising. The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation played a role in this important new county park project, as well, when they stepped in to acquire and hold the land while local fundraising was completed. This project could not have moved forward without the long-term cooperation and encouragement of the Dakins family, the city of Zearing and the Story County Board of Supervisors. The initial phase of construction is nearing completion and includes the dam for the new 15-acre lake and several smaller sub-impoundments that will help to protect water quality in the lake. The next phase of construction to be completed next year will include a new state-of-the-art campground and other infrastructure for the lake and park.
The new 80-acre Roland Wildlife Area northeast of Roland was recently acquired, with major help from Story County Pheasants Forever. The Natural Resources Conservation Service will soon complete wetland restorations and habitat plantings on the site.
Various presenters at the reception also pointed to important work that still needed to be done. Water quality was a common theme that was mentioned time and again when looking at conservation and recreation needs in Iowa. Iowa has the sad distinction of having some of the worst surface water quality of any state in the nation! Clean water is a critical need that affects almost every aspect of our lives, including outdoor recreation. Several nearby lakes and streams are classed as impaired due to excess nutrient loads and/or bacterial contamination. Impaired bodies of water cannot support all the life forms they should and are not safe for human-contact recreation at times. They include the Des Moines River, Big Creek Lake, Saylorville Lake, Hickory Grove Lake and the South Skunk River. Other smaller lakes and streams in the area may be no better off, but have not been as thoroughly tested. Improving our water quality will require cooperation from all levels of government and will include the active participation of individual landowners across the affected watersheds. Iowa still ranks near last in the nation in its funding support for conservation. It’s time to put some of the state’s ample reserve funds to work on this growing problem. Cleaning up our act will require new sources of dedicated funding, as well.
(Steve Lekwa is the former director of Story County Conservation.)