Help Transform Iowa's Parks

Help Transform Iowa's Parks
Become a Friend of the Iowa Parks Foundation

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

9th Annual Project AWARE - July 9-16, 2011

This Friday (June 24th) is the deadline for 2011 Iowa Project AWARE online registration! Spots may be limited, so sign up now if you want to go on the river cleanup excursion July 9-16th!

9th Annual Project AWARE
July 9-16, 2011
Little Turkey, Turkey & Volga Rivers

Project AWARE, which stands for A Watershed Awareness River Expedition, involves hundreds of volunteers who spend their vacations working as aquatic garbage collectors - cleaning up, learning about, and exploring Iowa's rivers.

Turkey River: Paddling and picking up with Project AWARE
Journey vs. Destination
This map shows the daily paddles for Project AWARE, held July 9 to 16 on the Little Turkey, Turkey and Volga rivers in northeast Iowa. (Courtesy map)
This map shows the daily paddles for Project AWARE, held July 9 to 16 on the Little Turkey, Turkey and Volga rivers in northeast Iowa. (Courtesy map)
By Lisa Brainard

In my never-ending quest to find a super-duper trip this year (or five or six - or 26 for that matter) I'm always looking at things on the Internet, as well as picking up area tourism brochures. (Reminder: Look for our own "Destination Bluff Country" guide coming out soon - it's all color and glossy this year!)

Last weekend I picked up a brochure for Fayette County, Iowa. I spent my years growing up in Fayette and Clayton counties. Well, what before my wondering eyes should appear in that brochure, but a perfect trip opportunity of the type I would enjoy! And perhaps best of all, it's in my "homelands" as I call it; the area where I grew up.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IaDNR) is offering the 9th annual Project AWARE, a volunteer river cleanup, in the Turkey River watershed July 9 to 16. That includes the Little Turkey, Turkey and Volga Rivers.

If you're looking for a reasonably priced trip with periods of hard work (but a lot of fun), being on (and in) the water, camping, camaraderie, learning opportunities, sun and (did I mention?) lots of fun, this is it.

Project AWARE stands for "A Watershed Awareness River Expedition." As the website states, it "involves hundreds of volunteers who spend their vacations working as aquatic garbage collectors - cleaning up, learning about and exploring Iowa's rivers."

I've learned a bit about conservation work on the Root River watershed here through Fillmore County SWCD, the federal NRCS, Hiawatha Trout Unlimited group's trout stream work, the caving community, state legislative tours and more. It's pretty interesting. Add a paddling cleanup to similar education opportunities offered each day and it should be quite an event for the Turkey River watershed!

Ties to the Turkey
I'm really tempted to do this. Let's look at my personal history with the Turkey. (Ha, ha... that sounds like I'll be telling tales on an ex, perhaps?!?? Nope, we'll be sticking to the river this time.)

The Turkey River winds through two of the towns in the Valley Community School District, both Clermont and Elgin. It also runs within a mile, tops, of the high school located between the two towns and from which I graduated. The Volga River runs through the third town of the Valley School district, Wadena (although I understand the portion to be cleaned up is farther downstream).

The two chances I had to canoe the Turkey were after my junior and senior years of high school. One trip ended up at the imposing, handsome Motor Mill downstream from Elkader. The other was an upstream segment around the village of Eldorado.

Even longer ago I recall riding horses with my neighbor and friend, Joyce, down to the Turkey in our rural area for a loop trip of 8 miles or so. That was a big time for us on our own.

The Motor Mill will be a fabulous site to see as it's being repaired and restored. One overnight is scheduled at the Clayton County Conservation Board's primitive campground adjacent to it. (Did I mention also riding horses across the Turkey in that location on a Whistlin' Bit Saddle Club annual fall ride? I remember it was deep enough that water got into my boots.)

Another Clayton County Conservation campsite will be at the Osborne Park between Elkader and Strawberry Point. I worked there the summer of 1976 as a Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) crew member. That was the summer before my senior year of high school. (Before you do the math, let me state for the record, yes, I'm an old - but active - fogey!)

Other campsites for Project AWARE include two Fayette County Conservation Board parks. The one at Gouldsburg, south of St. Lucas, is nice.

Another, which will host two nights of camping during Project AWARE, is the Gilbertson Conservation Education Area near Elgin. It's a lovely area where, back in my school days, our bus would run daily past the property of two Norwegian bachelor farmers (really!), who later donated the land to Fayette County for the park. It includes a nature center and hiking, mountain biking and horseback trails.

It's all a cozy, contented area of northeast Iowa. I guarantee the folks are friendly and the scenery nice.

More trip details

Now that you've humored me by letting me take this stroll (err... paddle?) down memory lane, here are more details on the trip.

The "registration" fee is the price of meals, which would be $20 a day when all meals are provided or by selecting individual meals priced at breakfast, $5, lunch, $7 and supper, $8. The use of a shuttle to move people and camping gear is highly encouraged at $20 a day on the days it's needed. And that's it, although you may need to come up with a canoe.

All in all, it sounds like a pretty fun way to spend a vacation - or at least a day or two - to me. For future details - and a lot of informational pages to print out - go to:

2011 Project AWARE Schedule
July 9-16 - 88.1 miles - Little Turkey, Turkey & Volga Rivers

Saturday, July 9 Meet and greet at Gouldsburg Park.

Sunday, July 10 - 12.8 miles. LITTLE TURKEY RIVER from Gouldsburg Park to Eldorado. Camp at Gouldsburg Park.

Monday, July 11 - 14.9 miles. TURKEY RIVER from Eldorado to Turkey River Canoe Access. Camp at Gilbertson Conservation Education Area.

Tuesday, July 12 - 12.3 miles. TURKEY RIVER from Turkey River Canoe Access to Gilbertson Conservation Education Area. Camp at Gilbertson Conservation Education Area

Wednesday, July 13 - 12.7 miles. TURKEY RIVER from Gilbertson Conservation Education Area to Frieden Park. Camp at Elkader City Park.

Thursday, July 14 - 13.7 miles. TURKEY RIVER from Frieden Park to Motor Mill. Camp at Motor Mill.

Friday, July 15 - 12.3 miles. TURKEY RIVER from Motor Mill to Garber. Camp at Osborne Park.

Saturday, July 16 - 9.4 miles. VOLGA RIVER from Osborne Park to Littleport.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Remembering Outdoor Experiences on Father’s Day

Do you recall how you were introduced to nature and outdoor experiences as a child? For many of my generation, the first exploration of nature came as we walked through the wilds with father.

As the Father’s Day weekend approaches, I ask you to pause and recall your early experiences exploring the natural world. 

Please take a moment and visit the IPF web site to make a tax-deductible contribution through our secure 'Donate Now' service in memory of a loved one who introduced you to the natural world

My early experiences were in far southeast Iowa – lead into the woods by my dad and my uncles. As I recall, on a Saturday morning in the spring, after the snow melted and the woodland floor springs to life, my father would awaken me and announce “Get dressed, we’re heading out for some morels”.  

I anticipated these outings as they were among the very few times that Dad and I would be alone together. We packed a light snack, a thermos of milk and hopped in the old ’48 Pontiac. Dad behind the wheel and me in the front seat for a change, we headed either north to Geode State Park or west to Lacey Keosauqua State Park.  

We would begin our hikes off the trails, through the ravines and across the creeks where sunlight would dance on the waters. Dad always said if I should find dead elm trees and that I’d find mushrooms there - or - that I should look on the east and west slopes of a ditch or stream bank.

If we were lucky and our walk was at the right time in the spring, we would come home with more than just a pleasant memory. With a little know-how and a lot of luck, my dad often bagged the tastiest treat in the woods — morel mushrooms.

From my (four year old) point of view, I was a lousy mushroom spotter as walking in the woods was its own reward. The scent of early spring native flowers and apple blossoms filled the air and wildlife was plentiful. It is perfectly peaceful with the songbirds serenading us throughout our tramp.  As you can guess I rarely found a morel without the guidance of my father.

Tell Your Story! 
Take a moment and share an early experience with nature on the IPF Facebook page.  

Thank you!  

Fettuccine Alfredo with Morels


1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Cognac
1 1/4 pounds fresh morels, rinsed, drained, and patted dry, or 1/4 pound dried, soaked, drained, and patted dry
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan plus, if desired, additional as an accompaniment


In a skillet melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over moderately low heat, add the cream, the Cognac, and salt and pepper to taste, and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the morels, simmer them, covered, for 10 minutes, and keep the mixture warm. In a kettle of boiling salted water cook the porcini fettuccine and the scallion fettuccine for 3 minutes, or until it is al dente. While the pasta is cooking, in a large deep skillet melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter over low heat. Drain the pasta, add it to the large skillet, and toss it with the butter, lifting the strands. Add the morel mixture, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, and pepper to taste and toss the mixture well. (Alternatively, the 2 kinds of fettuccine may be cooked and sauced separately.) Serve the pasta on heated plates with the additional Parmesan.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Water Quality Monitoring Begins at State Park Beaches

Summer is just around the corner, which for many means enjoying warm, sunny days at Iowa's state park beaches. The DNR will once again monitor and report on the water quality of these beaches to safeguard public health and enhance understanding of water quality.

Monitoring at all 38 state park beaches begins today (May 23) and will continue into September. Beach water samples are compared to water quality standards to determine the risk of waterborne illnesses for swimmers. All state park beaches will be monitored at least once per week.

Iowans and visitors can find weekly results on the DNR website at by clicking on Beach Monitoring. Choosing State Park Beaches under the Beach Monitoring Results heading will bring up a page that graphically displays the current advisory status at beaches throughout the state.

Clicking on the icon over each beach will open a window containing more detailed water quality information. Beachgoers can also get up-to-date advisory information by calling the Iowa Beach Hotline at 319- 353- 2613.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Will You Be Camping on Memorial Day Weekend?

Memorial Day Camping Checklist
The first major camping holiday is right around the corner and many campgrounds have already been booked months in advance. Memorial Day weekend always seems to kick off the summer and camping season. The weather is warming up, and the spring rains have produced every shade of emerald across the landscape.

1. Selecting Your Campground:
Memorial Day Camping is very popular across the state which usually leads crowded campgrounds. Depending on the type of experience that you are looking for, now would be a great time to learn more about the various campgrounds in your area or the area where you will be traveling to. Campground amenities vary quite a bit from site to site, and generally the campgrounds with more amenities tend to be more popular. Beach Campgrounds, including sites on lakes and rivers are always popular Memorial Day Camping spots.

If you are looking to avoid some of the Memorial Day crowds, take a look at some of the less popular campground with the same area. From my experience Forestry sites are not as popular as State Park Campgrounds, County Park Campgrounds or Private Campgrounds, while offering similar amenities and the same area attractions.

2. Make a ReservationSometime selecting the campground isn’t the tough part. Often it’s getting and reserving your favorite campsite. You know the one thats close to the bathrooms, but far enough that you don’t smell them. These campsites tend to get reserved quickly and well in advance. If you haven’t reserved a site by now there is a good chance its already spoken for, but double check the campground reservations to be 100% sure. As Memorial Day weekend approaches many campers release their reservations so new sites are frequently becoming available.

First come first serve sites are great for weekends like Memorial Day weekends. Because there’s no reservation in place, you can often claim popular sites by arriving at empty site early in the morning, or perhaps the night before. Both great first come first serve techniques. If you do find a spot, be sure to throw down some gear, or leave a person behind while another visits the campground host or park entrance to pay for the site.

3. Check Your Gear
There’s a good chance that this is the first time you’ll be camping this year. Before you get out to the campsite to discover half of the tent stakes are missing, lighter is empty or batteries dead, check it all out. We usually pull out the tent and give it a good cleaning and shake off any dust that may of settled. We also like to clean the sleeping bags, cloths, and towels. Pull out your master camping list and ensure everything that you take is in working order.

Near Capacity Campgrounds Expected for Memorial Day Weekend 

Iowa State Parks will be filled to near capacity for the Memorial Day weekend as many of the reservable campsites were snapped up in late February. Campers who are still looking for a site should call the park early to see if any walk-up sites are available.

Kevin Szcodronski, chief of the State Parks Bureau with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said his staff is been busy preparing parks for the first major holiday of the season.

"It seems like there is never enough time in the day to get all the work done to prepare for the first holiday, but we have a dedicated staff who put in the time, love what they do, and know many of their campers by name," Szcodronski said.

Campers will begin arriving a few days ahead of the holiday until the parks fill to capacity on Friday evening.

"We are going to be full," Szcodronski said. "We like to remind our campers to be respectful of each other, be patient, pick-up after yourself and to help us maintain the park by leaving the site in as good of shape or better then you found it."

He also suggested using the full campground as an opportunity to reach out to the new neighbors and make new friends.

"Try something new and different this year. Visit with campers on a neighboring site, enjoy the natural beauty, go on a nature hike and see the wildlife or the scenic vista along the trail. Challenge yourself to find something new," he said.

Memorial Day weekend weather can be unpredictable so campers should make plans in case of rain.

For information on Iowa State Parks, go to 

Parks Dos and Don'ts 
… bring fireworks
… burn trash
… bring fishing poles
… observe quiet hours
… pick up after yourself
… bring a first aid kit and sunscreen 

New Firewood Rules
Beginning Jan. 1, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship has required all firewood sold or acquired in Iowa to have the county and state of harvest location on the label of packages and the delivery ticket for bulk firewood. The rules were added to prevent the spread of invasive species.

The rules only apply to firewood sold and acquired in Iowa.
The rule also requires the Iowa DNR to collect firewood from campers that does not have a label.

Campgrounds Closed for Construction:
Lake Darling
Union Grove

Parks Closed due to Flooding:
Wilson Island code=ipf_trackingcode

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Outdoor Journey for Girls
An Outdoor skills camp for girls 12-15

Iowa’s Outdoor Journey for Girls
(OJ) camp introduces outdoor skills to 12 to 15 year old girls of all backgrounds and knowledge levels where they have an opportunity to try things hands-on under the watchful eye of trained instructors. 
The three day, two night workshop teaches a variety of outdoor skills, including canoeing, orienteering, fishing, archery, shooting rifles/shotguns, conservation, water safety, camping, game care, fur harvesting, fish identification and fish cleaning and cooking. 
The second day is devoted to certifying the girls in Iowa’s hunter education program.
The experiences at OJ can form a common bond between campers. Megan Wisecup with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Bureau who coordinates the camp said it is common for some of the girls to keep in touch for a few years after the camp. 
“The girls really seem to form a bond rather quickly with other campers in their cabin, which is nice because many are a little nervous heading in to the camp,” Wisecup said.
Campers are encouraged to contact their local Pheasants Forever chapter to see if they have any scholarships available to pay for registration.  Other organizations provide scholarships, as well. 
The 2011 camps are scheduled for June 15 to 17 at Springbrook Conservation Education Center, near Guthrie Center, July 12 to 14 at Black Hawk County’s Hickory Hills Park, and Aug. 3 to 5 at Springbrook.  The July and August camps fill rather quickly so early registration is encouraged.  More information is available on the web at
Outdoor Journey for Girls began in 1993 with the purpose of offering girls a similar experience to outdoor camps already in place for boys, and so far, more than 2,000 girls have gone through the camp.
Iowa’s Outdoor Journey for Girls has been featured in Newsweek and Pheasants Forever magazines, across the state and country on television (including Nickelodeon), and in newspapers.  
OJ instructors are Iowa DNR conservation officers and biologists, County Conservation Board naturalists, and representatives from other agencies like the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Iowa State University.  Many of the presenters are women professionals in natural resources, including several conservation officers from the DNR’s Law Enforcement Bureau’s who instruct annually at the program.
For information on the workshop, in southwest Iowa, contact Shawnel Richter at 712-249-2844.  In the Dubuque and Bellevue area, contact Stephanie Penniston at 563-340-4528.  In Waterloo, contact Lori Eberhard at 319-269-6705.  In northwest Iowa, contact Ginger Walker at 712-225-6709.  In southeast Iowa, contact Jackie Gautsch at 319-205-8501. In central Iowa, contact Rhonda Fowler at 515-205-8709.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Camping Kickoff Weekend Begins Today

It’s time to open up the camper or air out the tent and get ready for a season of relaxation and fun in Iowa’s state parks. Today begins the season's Camping Kickoff Weekend - Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 

A little pre-season work goes a long way to making a camping trip more enjoyable.  Check out some of the camping video's on the IPF Facebook page for some basic 'getting started' tips for new campers. 

Putting up the tent to check for leaks and minor repairs, making sure sleeping bags are free of holes, inventorying kitchen utensils and restocking dry goods are all important. Preparation for an RV or camper owner may be a little more involved — making sure gas lines are in working order; the water system is sanitized and leak-free; batteries are fresh or charged; blocks, jacks and hitches are operational.

And doing a little research on new outdoor recipes can be fun whether you tent camp or us an RV.  A number of helpful camping tips, recipes and checklists can be found

Upgrades were made earlier this year to the state parks’ reservation system, including a new website. Campsite — as well as cabin, shelter and lodge reservations — can now be made on-line or by calling (877) 427-2757 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday or from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Some State Park Facilities Not Available
A water leak in the campground at Emerson Bay State Park on the shores of West Okoboji Lake will likely cause the water to be shut off for the two shower buildings and to the restroom serving the popular boat ramp. Water will still be available from the water hydrants throughout the campground, the modern restroom and to the dump station.

Frank Rickerl, northwest district state parks supervisor for the Iowa DNR, said they are in the process of notifying the campers with reservations and providing them with some alternatives. "They can stay here and use the shower facilities at Gull Point, we can transfer their reservation to another park or refund their money," Rickerl said. 

In addition to being camper kickoff weekend across the state, Saturday is the opening of walleye season at the Iowa Great Lakes which draws additional campers to the region.

Other parks across the state will have features that will not be available.

At Ledges State Park, the Canyon Road and Lower Ledges Road will remain closed to vehicle traffic this spring due to ongoing flood clean-up and repair. Park visitors are welcome to hike into these areas, but vehicles are not permitted at this time.

Wilson Island State Recreation Area is closed due to flooding from the rising Missouri River. If conditions improve and the campground can be reopened, campsites will only be available on a first come basis for the rest of the year.

Campgrounds and cabins at Lake Darling and the campground at Union Grove state parks will be closed all year for a campground renovation.

The caves at Maquoketa Caves State Park are closed to prevent the spread of white nosed bat disease. Other features of the park and the campground remain open.

The beach at George Wyth State Park has been closed since damaged from the flooding in 2008. The DNR is working with Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] officials to raise the dike, change the access to the concession, upgrade the transformer and lift station, and other landscaping.