Planting the seeds of conservation
WEBSTER CITY — After seven weeks of meetings and online lessons, more than a dozen people earned the title of Iowa Master Conservationist on Wednesday at Briggs Woods Park near Webster City.
Linda Cline, program coordinator and PROSPER team co-leader at Webster County Extension office in Fort Dodge, said 14 people signed up for the program that took place throughout Hamilton, Humboldt, Webster and Wright Counties.
The program began in May and wrapped up July 2 and included seven, three-hour face-to-face meetings at Camp WaNoKi near Fort Dodge, the Tim Smith farm near Eagle Grove, the Skip Christensen farm near Humboldt; the Smeltzer Farm near Otho, Brushy Creek State Recreation Area, a watershed near Webster City and Briggs Woods.
In addition to the meetings, the group also completed approximately 12 hours of online curriculum.
According to Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the program teaches about Iowa’s natural ecosystems and the diversity of conservation challenges and opportunities within the region. Graduates of the course learn to make informed choices for leading and educating others to improve conservation in Iowa.
“It was fun to partner with new people and provide this program in the four county area,” said Cline “It was just exciting to see the places that are right here in our counties we don’t have to drive very far to see.”
One of those particular spots that made an impression on Cline was the remnant prairie located near Brushy Creek.
“It’s a prairie that never has been touched by a plow,” she said. “It’s just exciting to have these at our back door and it’s exciting that people care about our environment and pass it onto the future.”
Class participant, Ron Tigner said attending the Iowa Master Conservationist program opened his eyes as well to some of those areas.
“There were a number of places that we visited, like Briggs Woods — I have driven by there a million times, but I have never visited,” he said. “Then there were the other places. There were five out of seven sites I have never really visited, although I have driven by them many, many times, but this gave me an opportunity to experience them more and learn more about them,”
Jennifer Rolland said she appreciated learning about new conservation efforts to incorporate at her own farm.
“I have really enjoyed just week after week, finding new ideas of conservation because I have river bottom and it gave me opportunities to think about how to better manage that,” she said.
Linda Wild said her idea of what she thought she wanted to learn more about by participating in the program changed.
“When I first started, I talked mostly about being interested in the park system and now I have kind of become more interested in the urban aspect of it (conservation) since I live in a community,” she said. “I think I realized that conservation is more than just parks and I found it very interesting listening to the farmers. It was really interesting how convoluted that was from when I was a kid and when we had a farm.”
Steve Wright enjoyed learning more about the prairie.
“My wife and I have been working on small prairie construction, so it supported a bunch of what we thought we knew and I guess, overall the last seven weeks, has proven to me, that we definitely don’t know everything, we are kind of on the right track.”
Making a seven week commitment was something Cindy McCollough wasn’t sure she could do.
“It went really quick,” she said. “Every time that we got together and we were able to get out, it was just fascinating that all of this was so close and I had no idea that it was there, or how much work was being done just right beside me at Brushy Creek. I have a whole new appreciation for all of what I thought was poorly tended ground and just knowing that it might be in its first or second year and has a ways to come.”
Jim Patton, retired ISU Extension and Outreach regional director for Hamilton, Webster and Wright counties, said he was involved with the earlier sessions of the Iowa Master Conservationist programs and told the group he is very pleased with how the program has evolved.
“I think the material you have to look at between sessions is a great improvement,” he said. “I want you to know that was a real plus that you have what we didn’t use to have. It’s a great program and I just applaud the staff and everyone that is doing it because I think it is something we just need to keep working at.”
Hamilton County Conservation
For their last session the group had the opporunity to learn more about Hamilton County Conservation and its efforts.
Brian Lammers, executive director of Hamilton County Conservation, said his group manages just over 2,000 acres of ground in the county which includes three county parks, numerous wildlife areas and an 18 hole golf course.
Some of the larger projects they have completed include work done at Little Wall Lake Park and Briggs Woods Park.
At Little Wall Lake Park, Hamilton County Conservation has completely revamped the campgrounds. The project, which started in 2009, and was finished in 2014, was done in four different phases.
“I have been told Little Wall Lake ranks No. 5 in campgrounds in the state of Iowa,” he said. “It’s getting used pretty heavy.”
A $1 million-plus addition of cabins, which are accessible year round was also completed.
“We wanted to come up with a way to make more revenue all year round so our parks don’t need to shut down. It’s beautiful out in the parks in the wintertime, so we built cabins that are open year round.”
New cabins were also constructed at Briggs Woods Park and Lammers said there are plans to begin reconstruction on the campgrounds there this fall.
“We are basically redesigning the middle of the campground,” he said adding the work will better suit larger campers and make the area more user-friendly.
Other projects include a solar-arrary panel that was installed at Little Wall Lake Park.
“We are the first county park that is supposed to be 100 percent offset of its energy,” he said. “We were spending in excess of $30,000 a year just on electricity for one park. To me, that was a red flag and it was because the park grew. We did the renovations and we were bringing people in. We had to figure out what we could do to offset that.”
Lammers said the park isn’t completely free of an electric bill quite yet, but says after some more internal work that needs to be done, they hope to be in the near future.
A 10 year project of building a bike trail between Jewell and Ellsworth was completed in 2016 and other newer construction includes the Briggs Woods Conference Center and more open air shelters.
Looking ahead, Lammers said they are making plans to replace the old boat house at Little Wall Lake that had been torn down recently as well as addressing the needs for a new shower house at the park as well.
There are also plenty of volunteer opportunities, Lammers added including invasive vegetable management, food plot installation, environmental education, volunteer coordinator and park volunteers.