Tama Co. Conservation to hire new naturalist

Annual budget rollover, Oxbow Bottoms near Montour discussed

An example of a facility sign for Oxbow Bottoms Wildlife Area shared with Tama County Conservation Board members during a 2018 meeting shortly after the property was donated to the county by Cessford.

In the wake of last month’s swearing-in of new park officer Riley Conrad and the recent hiring of naturalist intern Coralee Bodeker, another new hire is now on the horizon for Tama County Conservation as naturalist Brendan Kelly recently announced his plans to resign.

During the July 6 meeting of the Tama County Board of Conservation, Kelly announced he would be leaving his position as the county’s naturalist effective July 15 to take a job in construction in Ankeny where he currently resides.

Kelly has been the county’s naturalist for a little over three years. This was his first naturalist position.

As Conservation Director Stephen Mayne and conservation board members work to hire Kelly’s replacement, naturalist intern Coralee Bodeker – who began her seasonal position with the county on June 6 – will continue in her role.

Bodeker – a rural Benton County resident and rising junior at Cornell College majoring in environmental science and sustainability – was introduced to the board during the July 6 meeting.

Tama County Conservation naturalist intern Coralee Bodeker pictured at Otter Creek Nature Center following the conservation board meeting on July 6. –Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

For roughly the last month Bodeker has been assisting Kelly with planning and leading conservation summer programming throughout the county as well as preparing the summer newsletter and assisting conservation staff in various ways.

“I really like it. I’m enjoying it out here so far,” Bodeker told the board during the meeting.

Budget rollover

During the director’s report to the board, Mayne shared he had recently met with the county board of supervisors to roll over unspent funds remaining in the conservation budget from the last fiscal year into the LAD account. Fiscal year 2023 began on July 1.

“I’m projecting right now we’re going to roll over $293,000. That’s basically double the amount of what we rolled over last year at this time,” Mayne said.

For the fiscal year 2022, Mayne said county conservation was operating on the same budget as the fiscal year prior.

The county’s cost share of the Otter Creek Lake Restoration project is paid for using LAD funds.

When asked by the Telegraph what led to the increase in roll-over funds, Mayne said it was a combination of factors.

“While keeping in mind that Otter Creek Lake and Park has been partially opened, we felt it was in our best interest to utilize our budget as efficiently as possible,” Mayne said. “One of the things we did was to reevaluate and prioritize the list of items we needed versus items that we wanted.”

Mayne provided several examples of how conservation staff has been able to operate more efficiently including cutting back on mowing in areas of the parks underutilized by the general public which decreased fuel costs significantly, allowing staff to spend time working on other projects requiring attention in the parks.

“[N]ot mowing specific areas in the parks and properties has encouraged growth for natural wildlife habitat areas to thrive,” Mayne further added.

Conservation staff also took a detailed inventory of its current assets and supplies which allowed for more efficient planning.

Later in the July 6 meeting, Mayne said he asked the supervisors to earmark $20,000 of the unspent funds for the motor vehicle fund in order to pay for repairs currently being made to the conservation department’s John Deere 4030 tractor.

Lake restoration update

In his update to the board on the Otter Creek Lake Restoration project, Mayne shared there was still nothing new to report since last month when he reported ​​the archeological study was complete and the subsequent permit application submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – the final step for Tama County before construction can begin.

Otter Creek Lake and Park was closed to the general public due to safety concerns back on October 1, 2021, in anticipation of the lake restoration project which was scheduled to begin last winter.

But following a series of unanticipated setbacks including a delay in the archaeological study progress, lake restoration was effectively halted in April.

Most of the park and the campgrounds were reopened just before Memorial Day this year on a temporary basis.

Mayne told the board on July 6 the county is to receive a seven-day notice before construction begins.

Board member Allan Atchison asked Mayne why the lake had to be drained as early as last summer if the process to restore was going to take this long to get started.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know. Obviously, they had to drain it to dry it out but they should have been done by now. A lot of it was being upheld by that permit,” Mayne replied.

“I would urge you to be in weekly contact with the DNR,” board member Nathan Wrage said to Mayne. “[B]ecause what we were promised and what we’re receiving are not the same.”

“You’re not wrong on that,” Mayne said.

Earlier in the meeting, conservation staff brought up the thick blanket of brushy vegetation that has taken hold in the dried-out lakebed and the possibility of spraying it.

Oxbow Bottoms Wildlife Area strategic plan

Under new business, Mayne discussed with the board formulating a strategic plan for restoration of Oxbow Bottoms Wildlife Area – a roughly 60-acre property donated to the county in 2018 by Cessford Construction Company. The property is located on the north side of US 30, north of Montour.

Conservation technician Dustin Horne and park officer Conrad spent several days recently spraying 15 acres of the property for thistles.

The property is still in need of a parking lot and county signage. Mayne indicated both were part of this fiscal year’s budget.

Oxbow Bottoms’ former cattle trails – as well as the oxbow itself – are also in need of restoration.

An oxbow is a remnant meander of a river or creek cut off from the main channel either by extreme erosion or human alterations.

“The initial plan was to have a native planting on the bottoms and then do some sort of restorative work on the cattle trails,” Wrage said, before later stating, “At one point in time we even kicked around a sunflower planting.”

Wrage said that it might be a good idea to harvest prairie seed for Oxbow Bottoms from a native sand prairie such as the sand prairie remnant Marietta Sand Prairie Preserve in nearby Marshall County.

Horne said the 10 acres along the road are most in need of attention as those acres currently host a large population of thistle and other weeds.

It was decided that Mayne would look into possible avenues for restoring the oxbow and putting in a native sand prairie planting.

Upcoming meeting

The next meeting of the Tama County Conservation Board is set for Wednesday, July 20, at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom in order to approve monthly bills.

The next regular meeting of the board is set for Wednesday, August 17, at 6:30 p.m. at Otter Creek Lake and Park Nature Center.