A Park Leader's Favorite Day

I recently had one of those moments that reminded me exactly why I chose to work for county conservation. It was one of those moments that makes you smile so big and makes your heart swell so much that my wife noticed even without me saying anything.

It was the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. I had taken my wife and two kids, ages almost-five and almost-two, out on Big Hollow Lake for a boat ride. We brought fishing poles but teaching two young children to fish is like trying to teach yoga to bear cubs. And by bear cubs I mean the kind with ADHD and a strong penchant for energy drinks. Or at least I think that’s what it’s probably like. I’ve never done yoga.

So we took to motoring around on the lake which the bear cubs enjoyed enough to stop fighting with each other. As we headed toward the lake dam, just past the beach, I noticed an awful lot of color on the lake ahead. By the time we got to the big open part of the lake just below the campground, I was able to see the full spectacle of what has been one of my proudest park leader moments in recent memory.

Dozens and dozens of kayaks dotted the lake from one shore to the other. Kayaks of all colors. And paddlers ranging in age from quite young to not young at all, and with physical statures ranging from gym rat to that of ex-Governor Chris Christie. And I’m absolutely not poking fun here. That demographic range is precisely what triggered the proud-of-my-job moment.

See, we had recently installed a kayak launch dock at the lake. It’s basically a floating walkway with a platform just above the water line where you can place your kayak and get into it without it bobbing in the water or rocking back and forth on the edge of the shore like kayaks tend to do. Then when you’re fully seated, you hook your paddle in the dock’s grooves on either side of the launch platform and slide off into the water. It’s really quite handy.

We knew the lake was a popular paddling destination so we figured a dock like that would be convenient for our frequent paddlers. So, as with most everything at that park, we paid for it with grants and donations and assembled and installed it with our own staff labor.

The new kayak launch dock at Big Hollow.

But what happened next surprised us all. People started coming in droves. Local retailers couldn’t keep kayaks in their stores. They were literally selling them by the truckload. A local sporting goods retailer said they field probably twenty calls a day from people asking if they have any kayaks in stock. Most of the time they don’t.

Now I’m sure our dock isn’t the only driving force behind that increase in kayak sales. Recreational kayaking, after all, is the fastest growing outdoor rec sport in the nation. But the economic impact is not what makes me so proud to head up this organization.

I have since received several reports from people in awe of the number of kayaks on that lake. One of my board members counted seventy-five kayaks from where he stood on the shore one Saturday afternoon.

“You could have walked across the lake stepping from one kayak to another,” said one of our Park Rangers after a particularly busy weekend.

One of our main goals at Des Moines County Conservation is to create places that, by sheer merit of their existence, draw people outdoors. That kayak launch dock wasn’t so much a convenience for pre-existing paddlers, I realize now. It was a gateway to a lake and the outdoor recreation opportunities it provides. That dock removed a barrier for a lot of people that otherwise might not have taken up kayaking. That dock makes it possible for the young, old, and not-so-physically-fit to exercise while enjoying the outdoors in such a way that only a quiet paddle on a lake can offer.

I love working with people that live to connect others to the outdoors. It wasn’t me that put that dock there. My staff did that. They raised the money, secured the grants, coordinated the delivery, assembled the parts and put it all in place. I’m just the one that, hopefully, inspires them enough to keep improving our parks like this.

That was my epiphany that day on the lake with my family. That lake, the line of paddlers in line to use its new dock, and the diversity of people paddling around on it exemplified why I get out of bed every day.

“Proud boss moment, huh?” My wife said, reading my smile as I piloted the boat that day. A proud boss moment is was, for sure.
This is a modified piece that originally appeared in my "Living Land" column in The Hawk Eye.


  1. Very nice article. I also enjoyed the "there's a park for that" article. When (or should I say if) they get Geode to hold water again, I would truly LOVE if they would put in kayak launches like this. State Park - I know.


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