Buseman carrying the torch for Grundy Co. Conservation

Nick Buseman was recently installed as Grundy County's third-ever Executive Director of the County Conservation Department, replacing Kevin Williams who retired at the end of 2021 after more than 40 years of service to Grundy County. -- Photo by Darvin Graham

At the start of the new year a new but familiar face has taken the reins at the Grundy County Conservation office.

Following the recent retirement of long-time County Conservation Executive Director Kevin Williams, staff member Nick Buseman was promoted and hired as Williams’ replacement.

Buseman, though only in his early 40s, is already a veteran member of the County Conservation Department. Hired in 2001, Buseman has served as a Conservation Technician and most recently as Operations Supervisor, overseeing the field employees and managing much of the day-to-day operations at County Conservation’s 18 different properties.

Buseman graduated from Wellsburg-Steamboat Rock in 1999 as the last class before consolidation into AGWSR. Growing up, hunting and fishing were a constant pastime which helped lead him down the path toward a career in wildlife and conservation work.

He then attended Ellsworth Community College where he received a Conservation Science degree.

Incoming Grundy County Conservation Executive Director Nick Buseman and retiring Director Kevin Williams stand in the Ag Hall at the Grundy County Heritage Center in Morrison shortly before Williams retirement in December. Williams and Buseman spent countless hours developing and constructing the historical and educational displays within the Ag Hall shortly after Buseman started with the department in the early 00s. The Ag Hall, Heritage Center and Brick Museum remain vibrant educational resources for Grundy County residents and visitors of all ages to learn about the natural and cultural history of the area. -- Photo by Darvin Graham

In 2001 Buseman was working summers at Pine Lake State Park in Hardin County while enrolled at the University of Northern Iowa when he saw a job opportunity come open in Grundy County.

He applied and was hired to fill a newly created Conservation Technician position created specifically for the Grundy County Lake borrow site project near Dike that the county was gearing up for.

Nick and his wife Traci have two kids, a daughter who is 14 and a son who is 11.

On top of his work with the County Conservation department, Buseman farms family ground not far from his home in Wellsburg.

Over the years working with Williams and the staff at the County Conservation office, Buseman said he’s felt fulfilled and challenged in ways he might not otherwise have had at other agencies.

The former school house in Morrison, now the Grundy County Museum, watches over the annual Pioneer Craft Fair that took place in September 2021. The museum is one of a few of facilities Grundy County Conservation maintains in Morrison along with the Heritage Center/Headquarters, the Peck Log Cabin and the Colfax #3 school house. Buseman said he hopes to work on driving more foot traffic to the brick museum in the coming year. -Sun Courier File Photo

“Getting to have our fingerprint on projects like the lake development and the Ag Hall displays has been a great feeling,” Buseman said. “That’s one of my proudest moments early on, was to bring my family to show what we did in completing the Ag Hall. You know, not many guys can say that they’ve wallpapered but we wallpapered the interior of the historical farm home exhibit. We built this historic barn display where we tore down an actual barn three or four miles south of here so we could have realistic beams to make it look like a barn that you might have seen 100 years ago in Grundy County.”

He credits those moments and the family-like atmosphere that Williams’ leadership helped foster as the drivers behind his decision to stay rooted in the Grundy County department.

“I felt committed from day one that this is where I wanted to be,” Buseman said. “This is where I could do something.”

Buseman took over the Executive Director position this week and will have a full checklist of short-term and long-term issues and projects to begin working on.

In the first few months Buseman will be working to re-establish the working relationships that Williams worked to build in and around the county during his career.

Nick Buseman operates a reclaimed rail car that lives as an interactive display on the Grundy County Museum grounds in Morrison during the 2021 Pioneer Craft Fair. -- Photo by Darvin Graham

Hiring will be a key priority in the near term as Buseman’s former position is currently posted and any hiring decisions within a department of three full-time members will come with great impact.

“One thing I’ve learned from Kevin was his ability to work well with a variety of groups within the county to be personable with everyone he works with. He’s always treated us employees well and has kept us involved. Some directors you hear about it being ‘my way or the highway’ and it’s never been like that here. I hope to carry forward.”

In an interview with the Sun Courier Buseman and Williams talked about some of the key projects coming up for the County Conservation department in 2022.

Planning work is already underway to fill in one of two remaining gaps in the 12-mile Pioneer Trail that stretches from Holland to Reinbeck.

Grundy County Conservation has been partnering with the Grundy County Heritage Foundation to conduct preliminary engineering work on the half-mile gap that exists on the east end of Grundy Center near the train tracks.

The second gap exists near Reinbeck, however it is expected that if the project moves forward, it will occur in two separate phases with the Grundy Center gap being addressed first and the Reinbeck gap second.

Another upcoming topic of discussion that could progress into a project is an offer for the county to take ownership of the Morrison Presbyterian Church building.

The historic wooden structure is located near the Heritage Center and Museum and would be taken on by County Conservation as another historical preservation project similar to what has been done previously to the Morrison school building. The church is currently owned by Henry Schick of Morrison.

One goal that Buseman looks to continue with the department is to remain open and available for land acquisition opportunities for wildlife habitats. Through the Grundy County Lake development process, Grundy County Conservation has been able to introduce multiple habitats around the lake property including a wetland, prairie and a tree plantation.

With Buseman taking over at the beginning of the year, he’ll walk right into the county’s annual budget process that takes up much of the first quarter of the year.

Projects like the Morrison church and the Pioneer Trail would make one of the department’s most immediate challenges the ability to identify and acquire additional funding sources in the same ways grants and state funding were acquired for the development of the county lake and the Heritage Center.

On the programming side of things the County Conservation department experienced a slow down in 2020 while they were unable to visit places like schools and nursing homes they had previously given presentations at regularly.

“I’d like to be able to figure out how to get those school programs back going again,” Buseman said. “It seems like field trips are not what’s happening now since COVID. I mean, we haven’t said no to anything. I’m not sure if they’re either not coming our direction or not a direction at all. But we need to be able to provide this facility for at least the districts in our county and it’s just figuring out the right way to do that.”

Upcoming programs for the first half of 2022 include Habitat Workshops in January and February and the annual Spring Open House held around March or April.

“I’d love to work on getting more traffic drawn into the brick museum over the next year. The Ag Hall is awesome and it gets the bulk of our visitor traffic, but there’s other things within our campus here that need to be seen,” Buseman said.