PALO, Iowa - Palo- If you could add or change anything at Iowa's state park system what would it be?
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is asking that question during the month of October. In fact, staffers are stopping at 20 of Iowa's 50 main state parks to survey park users about what they'd like to see included in parks of the future. And two of the meetings set for Tuesday are taking place in eastern Iowa near Pleasant Creek State Park in Palo and George Wyth State Park in Waterloo
DNR staffers say it's the first "future of state parks" tour that they've put together and they're not exactly sure what they'll hear. But they hope enough park users are interested in the future to turn out and participate. Attendance at each of the stops so far has averaged about 30 people.
Pleasant Creek ranks 5th out of 50 staffed state parks in terms of attendance. Park manager Joan Flecksing said the park recorded 450,000 total visits last year. "State parks are referred to as Iowa's places of quiet beauty. So I think Iowans and our visitors do really appreciate their little jewels which are their state park and recreation areas," Flecksing said.
But appreciate is not the same as saying everything's perfect. And both Flecksing and the DNR would like to hear public opinion about what should shape parks in the future. Flecksing, for one, would like to have more resources for maintenance to keep park buildings in better shape.
Long time park user Darin Oltrogge, Cedar Rapids, wants more prairie-like areas instead of all woods and trails in parks to hunt and train his dogs. Oltrogge said he's more interested in simple park pleasures compared to seeing state park money go into upscale resorts with lodges and golf courses. "Most definitely," Oltrogge said when asked what he preferred adding "having a lake full of fish and opportunities for people to come out and enjoy the outdoors and get away from the TV."
DNR officials have hosted five of the 20 scheduled meetings to date. And that reaction is a common one. Most people don't want to spend money on big ideas if it takes away anything from the regular park experience or maintenance.
Matt Schrantz owns Palo Outdoors near the entrance to Pleasant Creek State Park. He said his customers remember several years ago when low maintenance budgets mean a lot of work just didn't get done and some park areas sported waist-high weeds.
"These are simple people out there for the most part. They just want a nice clean parkand they (park managers) have done a tremendous job with the resources they have," Schrantz said.
Anyone interested in discussing the future of Pleasant Creek State Park can attend the session set to begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, October 9th. The location is the Wickiup Hill Outdoor Learning Center, 10260 Morris Hills Road, Toddville. The session covering George Wyth State Park in Waterloo will take place at the same time Tuesday. The location there is the Black Hawk County Conservation Board office, 1346 W. Airline Highway in Waterloo.