The welcome return of my "competition"

Great news! After being closed for the better part of two seasons, the campground at Lake Geode State Park finally reopened on Monday afternoon.

I’m excited. Even though, in a way, Geode State Park is my competition.

You see, I work for Des Moines County Conservation. We’re a county-based conservation department whose largest, most developed park is Big Hollow Recreation Area near Sperry which offers a 32-site RV campground as one of its defining features. Visitation to Big Hollow has been way up, likely due in part to Geode being closed these past two summers.

Geode, on the other hand, is a state park operated by the parks bureau of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). It is one of about 70 state parks throughout Iowa. The Iowa DNR is an entirely separate entity from county conservation.

In other words, if our respective agencies were private businesses, we’d be each other’s competition. And my writing about the improvements at Geode would be akin to Shottenkirk writing about the improvements Deery Brothers made to their car dealership. Or Grandpa’s Ice Cream telling us about new flavors at Dairy Queen.

But I don’t see it that way.

First, neither county conservation nor the Iowa DNR are private businesses. We don’t have to sell cars or ice cream or even campsites to stay operational. We are publicly funded. DNR State Parks get most of their budget from state appropriations, county conservation gets theirs from the county. Although in the case of Big Hollow, most of the park’s direct operational expenses are covered by park revenue, so in a way, we do benefit from selling campsites. But that’s not the point.

As public entities, we succeed by delivering a public benefit. Namely, connecting people with the outdoors. The more of us, regardless of agency affiliation, that succeed in delivering that mission, the better life is for all of us.

Think of it this way, if car dealers were solely focused on the mission of giving people the ability to travel and not on the mission of selling cars for profit, they probably would celebrate another dealership improving its showroom. Or if an ice cream parlor simply had the mission of delivering to the public the enjoyment of a good ice cream treat, they’d be happy whenever another parlor added flavors because that would further the collective mission.

But that’s not how business works. Hence the value of public organizations like the DNR and county conservation departments.

So when I heard the gates were finally opening at Geode’s campground, I went straight out there. I couldn’t wait to see what they had done.

The campground has 90 total sites, with 48 of them now welcoming campers just in time for fall camping, which, to a lot of people, is the best time of year for camping. Minutes into the gates opening, there were already campers pulling in. It’s worth noting this was a Monday afternoon.

You really can’t see much of what has been done at the campground because it’s underground. Upgrades to the park include all new 50-amp electric service, new water and sewer lines and some changes to the site layout, including the creation of 18 full hook-up sites (on-site water, electric, and sewer). Keeping with the traditional state park style, most of the sites are still pretty close together.

A noticeable addition is a new shower house at the front of the campground featuring a “family-style” floorplan. This layout features six full-amenity, self-contained bathrooms (toilet, sink, and shower in one room) that users lock behind them when in use. This is different from the shower houses most common in parks which have restroom areas separate from the showers. The “family-style” design is popular among families (hence the name) because they essentially emulate the bathrooms we have at home. The large rooms give parents the ability to wrangle kids from the toilet to the shower (and sometimes back again) without having to chase a naked toddler outside across the sidewalk that leads from the restroom to the shower stalls.

Not that such a thing ever happens.

Both Geode and Big Hollow installed Huffcutt prefabricated shower houses. This "family-style" floor plan is the one that Geode has. 

All the campsites at Lake Geode State Park are currently available on a first-come-first-served basis though online reservations will eventually be available on about half the sites once the system is updated to reflect the new site numbers and amenities. Current rates are $19 per night for full hook-up sites, $16 for electric sites, and $11 for non-electric (tent) sites.

The camping experience at Geode is different from Big Hollow. And that’s a good thing. Sometimes you want soft serve, sometimes you want homemade. Sometimes you just want a reliable vehicle to transport the family around in and you don’t care who sells it to you.

So you buy a Winnebago and go camping.

Mission accomplished.
This is a modified piece that originally appeared in my "Living Land" column in The Hawk Eye.

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