Ode to a Great Year

I don’t know about you, but my 2018 was great in many ways. Sure, there were some challenges, but aren’t there always? Those challenges are what make the successes that much sweeter.

Here in my last column of the year, I thought we’d take a look back and review some things that made this such a great year.

Big Hollow Got a Bathroom, then a Playground

Back in February when the park was still frozen and snow covered, three semi-trucks arrived with the shower house for Big Hollow Recreation Area near Sperry. These prefabricated units were put in place by a crane and in a matter of two days the park went from only ever having had pit toilets (yuck!) to having a great new, modern shower house in the middle of its campground.

Yes, in 2018, Des Moines County campgrounds got their first flush toilets. How could it not be a good year?!

I still find it a bit humorous at just how excited I got (and still do, actually) about this little addition. I mean, really, it’s just a shower house. But to those of us that have toiled for years to bring our county parks up to modern standards, it means so much more.

Those flush toilets and push-button showers represent a new era for Des Moines County parks. A modern era of flush toilets, automatic hand dryers and online campsite reservations. Of kids willing to go on camping trips with mom and dad because, why yes, the campground does in fact offer WiFi. For free.

Which means kids can snap chats from the new playground that was added in early fall. The two-tower wooden structure was a much-demanded addition that was paid for completely by grants and donations.

More Places to Explore

In April we cut the ribbon on 105 acres just west of Highway 61 between Burlington and Mediapolis. The Harold and Mildred Linder Conservation Area was partially donated by the Linder family in honor of their parents. The rest of the purchase was covered by a grant from the state Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) program making the acquisition free to taxpayers.

The wildlife-rich property is open to hunting, fishing (there’s a little pond on it that we’ll rehabilitate in the coming years), and nature exploration.

This year we also increased the size of Hickory Bend Conservation Area by 65 acres and Starr’s Cave Preserve by 13 acres, again at no direct cost to taxpayers. The Hickory Bend expansion was covered through a mitigation project by the Iowa DOT as a result of the Highway 61 project. Starr’s Cave’s expansion was done through another grant.

Starr’s Cave Improves Inside and Out

By summer, the years-long renovation process at Starr’s Cave Nature Center came to an end with the completion of new improvements to the second floor of the old barn. Aside from new floors, windows, walls, and shelving, we also added modern displays including an augmented-reality sandbox.

Then in October we cut the ribbon on the new segment of the Flint River Trail through Starr’s Cave Park and Preserve. This 1.8 mile multi-use, part-paved, part-lime-chip trail along the bluffs and bottoms of Flint Creek features some of the most stunning landscape views Des Moines County has to offer.

Somewhat like the bathroom at Big Hollow, this amenity was something I appear to others to get unduly excited about. After all, it’s just a trail, right? Sure, until you consider that this segment was literally years in the making. Three successive department directors worked behind the scenes to make it a reality. And I just so happened to be the one to finally cut the ribbon.

A Smaller Dead Zone

Okay, so this is a little beyond our borders, but it’s worth noting as yet another good thing that happened this year. The Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, caused largely in part by the massive amounts of nutrients flowing off of Midwestern landscapes like ours, was a mere 2,720 square miles in size this year. About the size of the state of Delaware.

Image source

While that’s still pretty big, it’s much smaller than last year’s record size of 8,776 square miles (about the size of New Jersey) and still smaller than the running average of 5,375 square miles.

Drought conditions early in our growing season likely helped. But the unprecedented fall flood we experienced, though nice for my duck hunting, served as a stark reminder that were not out of the water yet when it comes to managing our runoff problems.

There’s so much more I could add about how good this year has been but I’m out of space and out of time. I have go get ready for all the great things coming in 2019.

See you outside. Happy New Year!

This piece originally appeared in my "Living Land" column in The Hawk Eye.

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