Tama Co. Conservation wraps up several projects, looks ahead

Otter Creek campgrounds to close Sept. 6

With several projects nearing completion and the lake restoration’s final phase finally on the horizon, Tama County Conservation discussed several possible future projects during the August 17 board meeting held at Otter Creek Lake & Park Nature Center.

During the meeting, Director Stephen Mayne provided an update on the lake restoration project at Otter Creek Park that began with the draining of the lakebed roughly a year ago.

Mayne shared that the final permit for the project from the Army Corps of Engineers had been approved and was submitted to the Iowa DNR. Mayne recently spoke with the contractor for the project – Rachel Contracting – and all indications are that work could begin by the end of the month.

“[Rachel Contracting] anticipates that once they start, [the project] will only take a month,” Mayne said. “They said that they’re working on a project nearby that they can relocate their assets up here rather quickly.”

Under the maintenance report, conservation tech Dustin Horne shared that the new boat house – located on the west side of the park near the maintenance shop – was taking shape with the new pad and frame going up. Construction should be finished within the month as soon as steel for the building arrives. The decision was made to hold off on pouring concrete until next summer in order to allow the soil to settle.

Horne also told the board a circular trail system at Reinig Wildlife Refuge and Nature Study Area, located on the northwest edge of Toledo, was recently completed and is now open to the public.

In early August, a set of two giant Adirondack chairs were installed at T.F. Clark Park in Buckingham Township, next to the playground, but had been vandalized with graffiti after barely a week. The chairs will need to be sanded and stained again to cover up the paint, Horne said.

In terms of new projects, Mayne shared that the county would soon be installing a backup generator in the basement of the nature center in tandem with the county’s backup server. Mayne also shared that he recently submitted a grant for close to $30,000 for American Rescue Plan Act funds to install public WiFi at the park including at the campgrounds.

Mayne further shared he was working on quotes for several possible new projects at Otter Creek including relocating the dump station from the campground area to near the park entrance and a new/updated shower house.

Early park closure

Despite public outcry in May to reopen Otter Creek campgrounds and trails over the summer while the lake restoration was on hold, Mayne shared that campground revenue since reopening – particularly in the month of August – had been “next to nothing.”

“[T.F.] Clark Park is outrunning this place by a mile for campers,” Horne added.

Mayne told the board he would like to shut down camping in the park on September 6 following the Labor Day weekend.

“The main reason why we want to shut this down a month early is because we’re spending a lot of staff time to mow the grass, do the bathrooms, to check trash cans – whereas I’d like the staff to be spending time elsewhere at other parks [like] we had originally designed for,” Mayne said.

Board member Nathan Wrage reminded Mayne that he already has the prerogative to shut everything down with one week’s notice to the public as soon as the lake restoration contractor provides word they are mobilizing.

“There’s nothing saying we even have to wait until Labor Day,” Wrage said, “as long as we give the notice as we originally said.”

The board expressed support for Mayne to close the campgrounds early.

Upcoming meetings

The next regular meeting of the Tama County Board of Conservation will be held on Wednesday, September 21 beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the nature center.

The October meeting was moved from the third Wednesday of the month to Wednesday, October 12, at 6:30 p.m. in order to accommodate a member of the Conservation staff’s wedding.