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Improving the parks

Added signs, equipment make recreation better, safer

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Webster County Conservation Naturalist Erin Ford demonstrates the newly installed dinosaur bone excavation in the Playscape at John F. Kennedy Memorial Park. The area lets children uncover dinosaur bones and also has a sign board that gives information on some common dinosaurs such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Going out for a paddle on the Des Moines River or Lizard Creek can be a fun adventure on a nice summer day.

Taking the trek without a life jacket isn’t a very good idea.

The law requires a jacket be onboard a canoe, kayak or paddleboard. Children under 12 are required to wear them.

Adults, are not.

Thanks to a project spearheaded by Fort Dodge Fire Fighter Jon Schreck, there are now signs along the access points on Webster County’s water trails urging paddlers and boaters to “Play it safe on the river.”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Among the improvements to the Webster County Conservation park system are new signs along the Water Trails that offer safety tips. The project was spearheaded by Fort Dodge Fire Department fire fighter Jon Schreck.

Schreck approached both Webster County Conservation and the Fort Dodge Parks and Recreation Departments following recent rescues and a drowning on the Des Moines River.

Matt Cosgrove, Webster County Conservation director, said the signs compliment the existing signs required by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. They focus on things like understanding water levels, the distance traveled and the skills needed to navigate the area being paddled on.

The new signs are among several projects Webster County Conservation is working on over the summer to improve their facilities.

“Each year we make a list of the projects we would like to do for the next year,” Cosgrove said. “We look at our annual budget, donations, and grants. It’s part of our master plan to try to get updated access to the public.”

Some of the projects, such as the natural playscape area in John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, cost the public very little.

“The playscape is almost completely funded by donations,” he said.

The playscape is also going to have a 12-foot-­diameter tipi this summer.

“Thanks to a generous donation from the employees at Citizens Community Credit Union,” he said.

The cone-shaped structure is covered in canvas.

The Butterfly Garden is also being renovated. Established in 1990 by Bonnie Miller, it’s planted with shrubs and flowers to attract pollinators.

“It’s time for an update,” he said.

The renovation will continue to focus on butterflies and pollinators. As part of the work, it will become a registered Butterfly Waystation.

Plans call for removing overgrown shrubs, dying crabapple trees and deteriorating garden boxes. Instead, the area will feature a 5,000-square-foot garden and feature a patio with either a pergola or gazebo.

The summer day camp season is also in full swing.

Day camps at both Kennedy Park and Camp WaNoKi have and will continue to happen.

Cosgrove said that naturalist Karen Hansen has been working on developing programs to enhance the use of the WaNoKi site.

“It gets kids off their phone and computer,” Cosgrove said. “We want to get them back outside doing something fun.”

There are also play dates scheduled for the playscape at Kennedy Park. They feature a mix of structured time and free play for younger children.

Cosgrove said that many of the improvements are now possible because of the excellent support of the Webster County Supervisors.

“Fifty cents out of every dollar we make can go back into the budget,” he said.

The income, from things like camping fees, shelter rentals and firewood sales, helps the park system fund improvements.

Finally, for those to try something new, paddleboards are now available for rent at Kennedy Park.

The $15 for 2 hours includes the paddleboard, paddle, ankle strap and personal flotation device.

For more information on Webster County Conversation’s various programs and activities, see www.mycountyparks.com/Webster.aspx