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Sunday, March 29, 2009

State Parks on Endangered List May Be Preserved for a Price

With the recession forcing governments to make tough budget choices, many state parks are finding themselves on the chopping block. Some states change their minds afterward — but the about-face means more difficult decisions have to be made.

By Travis Reed, AP

The economic downturn has forced states around the country to shutter historic sites and reduce visiting hours for parks. But in Florida, Illinois, California and a few other places, closures have been forestalled after outcries from the public and budget-juggling by officials.

Still, funding shortfalls threaten public access at 69 recreation and historic sites nationwide, including the oldest building in Idaho, a sacred Native American ancestral village in Arizona and a Washington kayak launch point into Puget Sound.

Money from the stimulus bill could help. That's what made the difference in Florida, where Gov. Charlie Crist determined planned closures of 19 sites would not be necessary if the state gets the proposed $12 billion in federal stimulus money.

The threatened cuts in Florida would have stretched from a Panhandle park with a rare coastal dune lake, wildflowers and migratory birds to a former Keys quarry with cross-sections of ancient fossilized coral. The sites were targeted because they have fewer visitors and less revenue than the rest of the 160-park system. Nine didn't charge any entry fee, and five that did raised less than $4,000 last year.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn just reopened seven parks that his predecessor, Rod Blagojevich, had closed. But 12 historic sites around the state remain shuttered. They include a re-creation of the farmstead where President Abraham Lincoln's parents lived after moving to Illinois; the Vandalia Statehouse, where he started as a state legislator; and the Dana-Thomas House, built by Frank Lloyd Wright more than 100 years ago.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger dropped California's plans to close 48 parks after outraging environmentalists, some residents and politicians, deciding instead to increase fees slightly.

States that aren't closing parks and historic sites are raising fees, cutting services or both. When every expense is questioned, parks and recreation — like family vacations — can be an easy target. Unfortunately, the cuts come as more families are turning to state parks to save on their own expenses."

A lot of our constituents now can't afford to go too far from home, and they do need somewhere they can get away and just relax and take advantage of the great outdoors," said Shirley K. Turner, a state senator from New Jersey.

In her state, Gov. Jon Corzine proposed closing nine state parks to help balance the budget. The areas were saved by committing $9 million in beach protection money.

"It's utilized not just by adults but a lot of children," Turner said. "We can't afford to lose that. It helps psychologically as well as physically, and there's so much stress now."

Some states, like Ohio, plan to save cash by shutting down certain destinations for just a week. It will close 14 historic sites starting March 28, a furlough sparing $191,000.

Even in states that aren't considering closures, access will be limited and staff and service cuts likely.

Grass mowing and bathroom cleaning might be less frequent in Pennsylvania parks because of staff cuts.

New York expanded winter park closures and began months ago shutting down most parks at night for the winter. Consumer costs could be doubled in some cases there, and entry fees exceeding $200 are proposed for the Empire State Games amateur sports program.

Georgia's park division is operating at a 23 percent staff vacancy rate. The state is moving to close or transfer operations of state golf courses and swimming pools.

Nevada could close as many as 10 of its 25 state parks seasonally, and lock up two sites that already have access problems.

Michigan hopes to raise $1.9 million by raising annual park stickers by $4 to $28 and day passes by $1 to $7.

Idaho can no longer afford the $300,000 it spent last year on Old Mission State Park, home of the 155-year-old Cataldo Mission. It hopes the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, which owns the site, or concerned nearby community members can pony up.

Hawaii is at a crossroads with a park system sorely in need of repair. The state will either close as many as five state parks or pour $240 million into a "Recreational Renaissance," which would upgrade parks, harbors, beaches and piers crumbling into the ocean.

Three parks in Arizona have already been closed temporarily and eight more face potential temporary closure. Grants there that funded law enforcement patrols on the Colorado River are being suspended or canceled, and even a $3,500 re-enactment of a Civil War battle at Picacho Peak State Park has been called off.

Sometimes, budget cuts in other areas have unintended consequences for parks. In Kansas, the cost-cutting closure of three prisons that housed 160 inmates is expected to drastically affect maintenance. Inmates worked more than 81,000 hours last year on everything from cleaning to paving roads and installing cabins last year.

And business owners in many areas count on the attractions for traffic.

Washington has proposed closing two parks and transferring 13 more to other governments — if they can find anyone to take them on. If not, places like nearby Lyle and Brooks Memorial Park, a 700-acre, year-round camping site that helps drive traffic into Goldendale, Wash., could suffer.

"I can't help but think it would affect us somewhat, even if it just means the guy at the grocery store isn't selling as much stuff, so he's not coming to eat," said Maren McGowan, a photographer who co-owns The Glass Onion cafe and gallery in Goldendale with her husband.

"It does mean there are people that go there that won't be in this area. If they're just trying to get where they're going and it's not here, they might not want to eat here."

Slide Show: Beautiful National Parks

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cleanup Project will Tackle Cedar River

Project A.W.A.R.E. is an Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) effort designed to lead Iowans to the natural waterways of the state and to engage them in efforts to cleanup the environment.

The AWARE objectives include:
  • Increasing awareness about water quality issues that threaten the health of Iowa's water resources and promote advocacy and action towards their improvement and protection.
  • Engaging Iowa's citizen volunteers in a project that challenges them to become stewards of the river and produces a tangible, quantitative result (numbers of citizens involved and quantity of trash removed, recycled, reused, or properly disposed).
  • Demonstrating the commitment of Iowa's citizens by giving of themselves and their valuable time to make a difference - one stretch of river, one piece of trash at a time.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has announced that this year's cleanup project will help spruce up an 86-mile stretch of the Cedar River from Center Point to Muscatine.

This is the seventh annual Project AWARE. Hundreds of volunteers are expected to turn out for the cleanup project from June 20 to June 27. During the expedition, volunteers use canoes and kayaks to float down the river and pick up trash along the way.

Some volunteers also take part in land-based projects. Organizers said Project AWARE has enlisted more than 1,200 participants to clean up nearly 500 miles of Iowa's rivers.

Check out the DNR Project AWARE Web Site for more information.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Restoring Wetlands in Iowa Symposium

April Symposium Will Focus on Creating and Restoring Wetlands in Iowa
A two-day symposium exploring the importance of wetland restoration and management will be held April 2-3 in Des Moines.
One of the goals of the symposium is to explore options, both financially and socially, to restore wetland benefits for all parties concerned including agriculture and urban development. For instance, strategic use of state and federal conservation programs can assist landowners in maximizing unproductive land.
Wetlands are areas where water is at, near, or above the land surface long enough to be capable of supporting aquatic or hydrophytic vegetation and which has soils indicative of wet conditions. Iowa wetlands are diverse resources that include marshes, bogs, floodplain woodlands, wet meadows, low prairies and fens.

Iowa has one of the most altered landscapes in the world. Prior to settlement, an estimated four million to six million acres of Iowa were in wetlands. It is estimated that nearly 90 percent of Iowa's wetlands have been lost with only California and Ohio having lost more, according to The Iowa Wetlands and Riparian Areas Conservation Plan.

Wetlands have long been recognized for their value to wildlife, but it has only been in recent years that we've begun to understand the importance of wetlands in improving water quality for larger lakes and streams as well as reducing impacts from flooding. The restoration of wetlands provides not only environmental benefits in terms of improving water quality, but also economic benefits. In addition to hunting and fishing opportunities, wetlands are a haven for many non-game species.

Wildlife watching, particularly bird watching, is the fastest growing outdoor-related activity in the United States. Quality wildlife watching opportunities can be a boon to local economies that have wetland complexes designed to attract wildlife and, in turn, the people attracted to watching wildlife.

In recent years, the Iowa DNR has been actively working on restoring some of Iowa's largest wetland complexes. A video highlighting the DNR's efforts to restore existing wetlands, "Reviving Iowa's Shallow Lakes," can be found at:

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Elevate Great State Parks to Become Even Greater

In today's Des Moines Register editorial section, several distinguished Iowans suggest 'Big Ideas for Iowa' Among the array of suggestions are two that are particularly interesting to the Iowa Parks Foundation. Governor Terry Branstad , co-chair of the IPF Board suggests a need to continue the efforts to modernize and reform state government. You will find the Governor's post in the New Iowa Group blog spot.

Neil Harl, writes of the need to elevate state parks - directly in the 'sweet spot' of the Iowa Parks Foundation mission.

Elevate Great State Parks to Become Even Greater
NEIL E. HARL is a distinguished professor in agriculture and an emeritus professor of economics at Iowa State University.

When I first read Rahm Emanuel's quote a few months ago, I thought back to 1970, when universities (and the country) were in crisis over the Vietnam War, civil rights and environmental concerns. I stated then that crises are a scarce resource, to be handled with great care.We managed to get approval of a new, highly popular one-credit seminar series dealing with critically important then-current issues. In normal times, curriculum committees would have beaten the proposal to death. That September, the program was approved by the one person who mattered, President W. Robert Parks; the various curriculum committees never saw the proposal.

Let's learn from that experience now, as an economic meltdown grips the world in fear and foreboding. One important area that cries out for attention is our great state parks, which could become even greater with modest additional resources.

We need to quickly develop a master plan to address capital-improvement needs; shortcomings in staffing; control of runoff (which damages our state's lakes and streams), including acquiring buffer strips where necessary; and building facilities to better serve the recreational needs of Iowans and visitors.
Such a major project would make Iowa a better place to live and work, enhance our tourism potential and last well beyond the current crisis. Obviously, the project should work in partnership with federal stimulus initiatives, but Iowa should add local funding and momentum. Iowans in 2020 and beyond will think kindly of the foresight and generosity of spirit that propelled the project.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cycling South Part One - Iowa's State Parks Along the 2009 RAGBRAI

The RAGBRAI XXXVII Route was announced over the weekend and presents opportunities for riders and their crews to get acquainted with a few of Iowa's beautiful state parks along the way.

For those traveling along I-29 from the north - you may want to stop by Stone State Park and the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center in Sioux City or the Lewis and Clark State Park near Onawa. You will also find Wilson Island State Park and its visitor's center about 25 miles north of Council Bluffs. These are all great spaces for a break from the road - refreshments and a picnic.

If you are coming up from the South, you will want to stop by Waubonsie State Park the first Iowa stop on the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail and just north of the Missouri border. The unique topography of the park resembles the "badlands" of the west and harbors plants like the yucca which are normally found in more arid climates. Named for Chief Waubonsie of the Native American Pottawattamie tribe, the park is much the same today as it was when it was purchased in 1926.

Those traveling from the east along I-80 will want to stop and take a break at Lake Anita State Park just five miles south of the Anita interchange. Lake Anita was dedicated in 1961and is one of the most popular outdoor recreation facilities in southwest Iowa. The 1,062-acre park features a beautiful 171-acre artificial lake which was formed by creating a dam on a branch of the Nishnabotna River.

Saturday July, 18, 2009 - Council Bluffs

No visit to Council Bluffs would be complete without a visit to Lake Manawa State Park. Riders looking for a quick 'warm up' ride on Saturday should jump on the Council Bluffs trail system which will link you to a paved bike trail within the park, the Western Historic Trails Center and the Wabash Trace Trail. A great way to start off your RAGBRAI experience.

'Breathing Spaces' is the Official Blog of the Iowa Parks Foundation

Monday, March 2, 2009

Celebrating Community Activist Bob Mickle

Our friend and neighbor Robert Mickle, a passionate and tireless voice for the people of Des Moines, passed away yesterday after a long battle with cancer. During his 43 years in Des Moines, Mickle, 84, was a strong community activist, first launching the Central Iowa Regional Planning Commission in 1968 and then serving in numerous city positions and volunteer roles.
He was planning director for the city of Des Moines from 1972 to 1982 and a private consultant on urban planning issues for the city and its suburbs until 1986. After "retiring" from city planning, Mickle continued to work as an avid volunteer. He most recently served as a board member of the Sherman Hill Neighborhood Association, president of Des Moines Neighbors and a planning consultant for the Iowa Council for International Understanding (ICIU) and the state in a joint cultural, government and small business exchange program between Des Moines and Cherkasy, Ukraine.
As the original director of the Neighborhood Investment Corp., Mickle helped develop and preserve the Sherman Hill and East Village districts. The Robert W. Mickle Neighborhood Resource Center in Sherman Hill was named in his honor.

According to an article on the Sherman Hill Association's Web site, in an acceptance speech after receiving the lifetime achievement award at ICIU's 30th anniversary dinner, Mickle said, "The most important lesson I've learned in life is that you must live up to your potential; always strive for excellence. And the second most important lesson is that you must give back and give generously."
Mickle grew up in Boone during the Great Depression and served in World War II as a Navy gunner. After the war, he moved his family to New York, where he owned a dairy farm and worked as a private planning consultant for 25 years before returning to Des Moines.He is survived by his wife, Nelda, and numerous family members.
A funeral for family only will take place tomorrow in Boone. A community celebration will take place at the Mickle Center in Des Moines at a later date. A blog will be live later this afternoon for people to post comments and pictures; a link will be available at