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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Expect Busy State Park Campgrounds and Boat Ramps This Weekend

Iowa’s State Parks and the Fourth of July are as much of a tradition as hot dogs, apple pie and the annual parade.

“Our campgrounds are already busy in fact we have some parks where the first come sites filled two weekends ago,” said Kevin Szcodronski, chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources State Parks Bureau. “We are encouraging all of our campers to be aware of the noise level at their campsites and to have patience at the shower houses and dump stations because of the busy holiday.”

The DNR will be handing out large green reusable litter bags for campers to use to collect trash. The bags contain information on how campers can have a smaller impact on Mother Nature while enjoying Iowa’s scenic beauty. The DNR worked in cooperation with Keep Iowa Beautiful to sponsor the bags.

Boaters who use state park boat ramps will find ramps busy and parking lots filled to capacity. Patience will also be at a premium there.

“Delays at boat ramps can cause frustration among boaters who are in a hurry to get out on the water and enjoy the holiday. Boaters should plan to arrive early at the ramp, use the rigging lane to prepare to launch and to be courteous to the others waiting to put in,” said Susan Stocker, boating education coordinator for the DNR. “Boaters can reduce the chance of frustration by checking the boat for life jackets, a sounding device, checking the lights and fuel supply before heading to the lake.

They should also reduce their speed and watch out for others on the water.” Stocker said each boat should have a designated operator or to have a plan to rotate operators to reduce the amount of sun and wave action on one operator.

“The key to the plan is to have an operator who is not drinking alcohol,” she said.
Iowans heading to the lake this weekend should be sure to include a rod and reel. Fishing in Iowa lakes and streams is expected to be good.

“After a lot of rain and hot and cool temperatures, we are finally in a stable weather pattern and that should provide our anglers with good fishing,” said Mike McGhee, with the DNR’s Fisheries Bureau. “Look for largemouth bass and channel catfish close to shore. Bluegills should be willing to bite all over the lake and close to shore first thing in the morning.”

Sidebar: Dos and Don’ts for the July 4 Holiday
Do bring plenty of sunscreen and bug repellent
Don’t bring fireworks
Do bring balls, bats and gloves for kids to play with
Don’t bring in firewood from out of state
Do plan to spend extra time setting up the campsite
Do plan to arrive early to allow plenty of time to set up
Do call ahead if you do not have a campsite to see if there are any cancellations or first come first serve sites available
Do be courteous of other campers and follow the quiet hours. It takes only one loud campsite to ruin the experience for a lot of campers
Do pick up after yourself - Use those Green Bags that will be distributed at the parks
Don’t leave your lights on all night or the air conditioner running while no one is in the camper Do follow the park rules and plan to have a fun and safe holiday weekend
Do wear a life jacket
Don’t drink and drive while operating a boat
Don’t operate the boat faster than the conditions allow
Do check all boating safety equipment before leaving home


Youth ages 2 to 13 caught on Iowa's waterways wearing a lifejacket will receive a mock citation, a sticker and a coupon for a free small Frosty at a participating Wendy's restaurant.

The citation is part of the "I Got Caught" campaign that rewards youth for practicing good safety habits. Other behavior that will prompt a citation is wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle, scooter, skateboard or in-line skates. The program will run throughout the summer and culminate in the fall with several bike giveaways.

The DNR is a participating law enforcement agency. The primary sponsors for the 'I Got Caught' campaign are Iowa Health System, AAA Minnesota/Iowa and Wendy's Restaurants.

Iowa law requires children under age 13 to wear a life jacket while in a boat that is underway.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Iowa Parks Foundation at the Des Moines Arts Festival

When you travel to Des Moines this weekend be sure to stop by the Des Moines Arts Festival and visit the Iowa Parks Foundation tent on the festival grounds. The Foundation's tent will be in the Prairie Meadows Non-Profit program area st the western end of the festival grounds. Look for us near the Performing Arts Stage west of 15th Street and north of Locust Street.

Youngsters visiting the tent will have the opportunity to create paper mosaics that have a 'What Nature Means to Me' theme. We will take digital photos of the works and will use them as part of our display at the Iowa State Fair in August.

Older children and adults will have the opportunity to record brief video vignettes describing their experiences in State Parks and 'What the natural world means to them'.

It's in the Bag - Litter That Is

The Foundation will also be handing out reusable trash bags during the Festival. These are the same bags that the Iowa State Park staff will be handing out during the holiday weekend to help campers and visitors with the carry in carry out trash policy at state parks.

The bags are approximately 18 x 25 inches and made from recycled plastic. They look like a mesh onion bag and are meant to be reused.

"We're also hoping people will carry the bags with them when they are hiking or strolling around the park and help park staff in keeping the parks litter free," says Jim Lawson, district park supervisor for the DNR.

"Iowa's state parks are feeling the same economic pinch we all are this year," says Gerry Schnepf, executive director of Keep Iowa Beautiful and person behind the free bag idea. "Without their normal seasonal help, it is hard to keep up with general maintenance of the park. We're hoping the bags will help promote good stewardship of not just individual campsites and parks, but the whole state of Iowa."

According to Schnepf, litter costs Iowan's nearly $30 million per year to clean up. "The July 4 holiday is around the corner and maybe someday Iowan's can celebrate our independence from litter," said Schnepf.

The reusable bags will also be distributed by DNR waters officers around the state and by the bag sponsors.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Egg Laying Snapping Turtle Becomes North Iowa Traffic Stopper

by Lowell Washburn

Iowa turtles are on the move. It happens every summer as a variety of normally aquatic species such as snappers, painteds, and Blanding's turtles temporarily forsake the murky depths of local ponds and marshes to march overland across crop fields, parking lots, and roadways. Most are females in search of adequate nesting grounds. For turtles, that means sun drenched areas of coarse sand where females can dig holes and deposit their eggs.

Although the annual ritual is rarely observed by humans, there are exceptions. A classic example occurred earlier this week at Clear Lake when a 25-plus-pound female snapping turtle became a literal traffic stopper. Upon leaving the muddy environs of the lake's Miller's Bay Marsh, the huge stegosaurus-tailed reptile immediately began excavating a large nest crater along the shoulder of the busy residential South Shore Drive blacktop. As soon as the activity was complete the old Mossy Back began filling the hole with its clutch of white, ping-pong-ball-sized eggs.

"I first noticed the turtle yesterday afternoon, and I think she was already scouting a place to lay her eggs," said Frank Clark, a South Shore resident who lives directly across the road from Miller's Bay.

"I'm pretty sure it had to be the same turtle; not many snappers get to be that big anymore," Clark added.

As soon as the turtle reached the blacktop's shoulder, she began emitting a "huge quantity of fluid," said Clark. Before long, the hard packed gravel shoulder had become soft and muddy. The snapper then used the heavy claws of her rear feet to begin excavating the crater.

"It was just amazing to watch," said Clark. "As soon as the hole was finished, she began dropping eggs. She was laying them two at time about two or three minutes apart. The whole process was just fascinating."

Other Clear Lake residents agreed with Clark's assessment. Before long, the nesting turtle had attracted a significant crowd of interested passer-bys. And as the cell phone telegraph spread the word, more and more residents traveled to witness the event.

After filling the hole with more than a dozen huge eggs, the snapper surprised onlookers by "softening the earth" and then starting a second cavity just a foot or so farther down the road. After boring a full 10 inches into the packed hardpan, the reptile immediately began to fill its second nest ---- this time depositing more than 20 shiny eggs.

Masters of disaster, snapping turtles bite freely when threatened and are known to possess one of the vilest temperaments to be found anywhere in the outdoors. But in this particular case, the huge snapper's only interest was in accomplishing the task at hand. Oblivious to the growing crowd of wildlife watchers, she never emitted so much as a warning hiss ---- even when people moved uncomfortably close to obtain souvenir photos.

"I don't know exactly how many different people have been by to see this, but it's been a lot," said Clark. "I've seen a lot of sun [painted] turtles come out of the marsh to lay eggs, but this is the first time I've seen a snapping turtle come up here. It's unusual, and she's definitely a big one."
This is an interesting video of a snapper laying eggs - though not the North Iowa snapper from this blog post.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Great American Campout - Connecting to the Natural World

Explore Iowa’s Great Natural Resources this Summer

Great American Campout is June 27

June has been proclaimed Great Outdoors Month as a way to encourage Iowans to put down the video game, turn off the television and head outside.

There are enough wonderful natural resources in Iowa for everyone to enjoy, from camping to bird-watching to canoeing. Try something new this year like geo-caching or fishing. Or, if you are a seasoned pro, take along someone who has never had the opportunity and show them the ropes. You could gain a hiking or fishing buddy for life.

There are many physical and psychological benefits to getting out and enjoying the great outdoors. Research shows that youngsters who regularly play outside have lower stress levels, tend to play more creatively and have a greater respect for themselves, for others and for the environment. Did you know that good old-fashioned dirt contains a variety of microbes, bacteria and viruses that are actually good for kids by helping boost their immune systems. So take the children outside and get dirty this month.

The Great American Campout is June 27 so, grab your tent and the marshmallows and head out to a state park or at the least, your own backyard, for a campout. Watch the stars light up the sky as you tell stories and connect, not only with the great outdoors, but also each other.

There are dozens of camoping opportunties in State Parks, Recreation Areas and County Parks near you.
This is the perfect opportunity to start traditions that will last a lifetime.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Volunteer Group Sprucing up Geode State Park


Geode State Park will look a little prettier this summer thanks to some improvements by the Geode Park Alliance Friends group.
The small volunteer organization, which was just formed last year, recently completed work on a new roof for the park's registration building and added a permanent bench seat in the north playground on the campgrounds.

Money for the material for the roof came from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, while the work was provided by the Geode Park Alliance Friends group.

"We do this primarily to give back to the park and everything it does for people," said project coordinator Ray Ward.
The group's next project will consist of installing a toddler-size playground on the north campground and a more extensive playground by the beach, which will feature a Space Net Climber designed like a cargo net. Although the playground equipment already has been purchased, Ward said installing the equipment will have to wait until August due to the park's soggy ground. The group also will have to obtain additional funding for the landscaping required to install the playground.

The Geode Park Alliance Friends group has about a dozen members, and Ward stressed that more will be needed to install the playgrounds.

The group is trimming back brush on the park trails and improving the campfire rings."We also want to repair and repaint the picnic tables, which will be a labor intensive project," Ward said. "We'll need a lot of volunteers."

Since seating at the park mostly consists of movable picnic tables, Ward also is hoping to install more permanent benches throughout the park. He said the group's long-term goal is to construct a new registration booth and an additional fish-cleaning station by the lake.

The volunteer organization is funded entirely by donations and a recycling bin at the park for aluminum cans. All money donated goes directly to materials, while the labor is conducted on a volunteer basis. "We work with the park staff, recognizing whatever they decide to do for improvements," Ward said. "It's an area where people of moderate means can enjoy themselves."

To donate money, materials or a few hours of labor, call Ward at (319) 750-5220.