Added Value Provided By Conservation
Editor’s Note: This is the first of an ongoing series of stories on Palo Alto County Government and its services. The second portion of this article will be published in this Thursday’s issue of The Democrat.
Palo Alto County has the blessing of being located in an area of the state that is dotted with Prairie Potholes and natural lakes, carved out of the terrain by glaciers thousands of years ago. Those lakes have been a natural resource for the county and its residents over the years, and through the management of the Palo Alto County Conservation Board, continue to be an attraction to visitors as well.
Palo Alto County’s Conservation Board currently manages 2,550 acres of lands in the county. Those lands include 29 parcels, ranging from natural prairie lands to wildlife areas bordering the West Fork of the Des Moines River. Other tracts include slough and wetland areas as well as county parks and the Lost Island Prairie Wetlands Nature Center, located at Lost Island Lake north of Ruthven.
The Nature Center, which was built through an Iowa Resource and Enhancement Program grant, has provided countless youth and adults alike with an opportunity to view nature close up through programming and displays over the years. The Conservation Board staff is headed by Director Art Hampe. Miriam Patton serves as the county’s Naturalist, and park rangers include Steve Henderson and Jeremy Wickman. Serving as administrative assistant is Mary Barrick. The Conservation Board is comprised of five members, including Tony Streit of West Bend, Gary Hughes, Sam Henkelvig and Darrin Adams, all of Emmetsburg and Laura Petersen of Graettinger. Additionally, over 40 volunteers give of their time and talents to staff the Nature Center during its hours of operation and over 150 other volunteers pitch in during the year to assist with special events and other projects.
Through educational programs alone, 169 presentations were made by Naturalist Miriam Patton to some 3,797 students during 2012. There were 16 public programs that reached 1,090 people, 10 civic programs for 145 persons and 24 programs for youth, such as the yearly Junior Naturalist program, that helped to reach a total of 5,785 people in 2012.
In Iowa, great value is placed on the quality of natural resources, and Palo Alto County is no different. In a recent statewide study, the use of Iowa’s outdoor recreational opportunities, such as trails, lakes, rivers and streams generated at least $3 billion in spending by residents and out-of-state guests. That translated into $717 million of income in the state.
Take that a step further. In the state study, county parks generated nearly 24 million visitors per year. Those visitors spent $608.9 million in the counties, which translated into $756.7 million of spending in those counties. That spending added $291.6 million of value-added dollars to local economies and $167.5 million in personal income.
In the Summer of 2012, Palo Alto County’s Conservation board recorded 1,191 campsite visits at the Huston Park campground at Lost Island Lake. The average stay was 1.55 nights, with over 4,360 total visitors. That represents a 70 percent increase in camping revenues over past years, proof that people are finding the outdoors to be more appealing as a getaway.
Palo Alto County is the home of Lost Island Lake, Virgin Lake, Five Island Lake, Silver Lake and Rush Lake. Combined, those lakes cover 3,257 surface acres of land. As a point of interest, Iowa has 132 lakes, which cover 324,000 acres of surface area. In 2009, over 12 million visits were recorded to Iowa’s lakes.