Drought, heat cut into use of county parks
In 2013, the Jefferson County Conservation Board will celebrate its 40th anniversary, said director Dennis Lewiston.
Lewiston shared JCCB’s annual report, covering fiscal year July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, with the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors Monday.
“It was at the general election in 1972 that the citizens of Jefferson County voted to establish a county conservation board,” Lewiston wrote in his report. “Since then, the JCCB has acquired 11 areas comprising 1,363 acres.”
Lewiston’s annual report provided project updates and information about revenue, expenses and personnel.
Access Energy donated all labor, equipment and materials to completely renovate the campground at Round Prairie Park.
“Round Prairie has become a popular camping area in the last couple of years,” said Lewiston. “We’re very grateful to Access Energy for bringing in a new service line from Tamarack Avenue and for installing 14 new pedestals with 50 amp electrical service at the campground.”
Lewiston estimated the upgrades at Round Prairie Park were worth $25,000.
The final phase of a three-phase Jefferson County Park campground renovation was completed a year ago. Seven camping pads, sites 10-16, were equipped with 50 amp electrical service and water hook-ups. The pads also were re-graded, leveled and re-rocked. A new sewer lift pump was installed at the west end of the campground.
Gravel approaches at the new bridge in Jefferson County Park were seal coated, as was a small section of the campground road.
The total campground update was approximately $75,000, most of which was paid with camping fees.
Jefferson County Conservation Board member Kathy Tollenaere initiated a fund raising project to replace the swinging bridge in Jefferson County Park.
“People came out of the woodwork to support this,” said Lewiston. “Many told us they remember going across the bridge as children; others said how they liked to bring their kids and grandkids to the swinging bridge.
“We have all the materials needed. The cost to replace the bridge has been estimated at $10,000. Weather permitting, we could still get that built this fall.”
The conservation board received a $22,734 fish habitat grant to renovate the pond at Whitham Woods. The pond was drained in the spring. The JCCB will pay a 10 percent match of the grant. Again, Lewiston said if weather permits, the project will be completed in 2013.
“We accepted a bid for $11,282 to renovate the barn on the Holmes Addition,” he said. “It’s a large wooden barn with peeling paint. We use it for storage. The barn will get a new roof and be completely clad in steel, making it virtually maintenance-free. We keep a lot of equipment there.”
Other work completed in fiscal year 2012 included re-grading and resurfacing two miles of Jefferson County Park trail; construction of a new pit vault latrine at the intersection of the Cedar View Trail and the Fairfield Loop Trail — cost of the building was about $5,000; and a new pit vault latrine at Whitham Woods.
“The Loop Trail goes through Whitham Woods, so it seemed like a good place to have a restroom,” said Lewiston. “The [Jefferson County] Trails Council paid for that one.”
The conservation board planted 140 new trees and shrubs on Cedar View Trail 13 months ago.
“We lost a few to the drought, but we were out there constantly watering and checking them this summer,” said Lewiston. “The project was sponsored by Trees Forever, so we’ll be reimbursed $14,000 for the project. We had more than 25 volunteers help plant, mulch and stake the trees.”
Lewiston detailed some of the activities of his employees, highlighting park host Ron Meyers’s trail rides for elderly and disabled visitors and residents.
“The trail rides provide people who otherwise might not get out there an opportunity to see trails in Jefferson County Park and on the Fairfield Loop Trail,” he said.
“And the annual Cedar View Trail drive thru is popular. We had 133 vehicles holding 400 people drive a portion of the trails,” said Lewiston.
Campground revenue decreased $2,040 at Jefferson County Park in 2012 compared to 2011.
Revenue increased $647 at Mac Coon Access and $371 at Round Prairie Park. Combined, the three campgrounds generated $32,583 in fees in fiscal year 2012, compared to $33,605 in 2011, a decrease of $1,022.
“Our camping numbers were down by 99 visits this year, but considering the heat, the burn ban and general economy, it wasn’t so bad,” said Lewiston.
Shelter rentals were slightly down. This year had 131 shelter rentals, generating $2,635 compared to last year’s 138 rentals which brought in $2,705; a difference of $70.
Cabin rental revenues dropped more sharply. This year cabin rental fees brought in $7,545 compared to $11,460 the previous year, a decrease of $3,915.
Jefferson County Park has two 12-foot-by 16-foot rental cabins with 4-foot-by-12-foot open porches. Each cabin can sleep up to six people and are equipped with two futon bunk beds, a refrigerator, microwave oven, table and chairs, air conditioning and heat. Outdoors are a picnic table, a campfire/cooking ring and a hydrant with potable water for each cabin.
The cabins were reserved 185 out of 370 slots available this year. Last year, the cabins were filled 207 slots out of 370.
“Total use was 161 days out of 370, or 44 percent,” said Lewiston. “Our reservations and use on weekdays is slower than weekends. During the week, cabin rentals were 32 percent, but on weekends it was at 70 percent. In the months May to August, for nine weekends, or a third of all the weekends, were closer to 90 to 100 percent occupancy. We could use another cabin in those months.”
Campers overall were 45 percent Jefferson County residents; 30 percent residents of other Iowa counties; and 25 percent residents of 39 other states and Washington, D.C.
“Texas, with 72 stays, was the state with the most camping,” said Lewiston.
Australia was the only country outside the U.S., represented by one camper.
Lewiston has been director 30 years
Supervisor Dick Reed asked Lewiston how long he’s worked for the Jefferson County Conservation Board. Lewiston began in 1983, so he will have 30 years of employment with JCCB next year.
“I’m always amazed at what you and your staff accomplish,” said Reed. “I’m on your side 100 percent. And it says something to have you working there 30 years.”
Lewiston said he works with good staff and a good board.
“One of my board members, Gene Parker, has served on the board since the beginning, and Terri Diers isn’t far behind,” said Lewiston.
Projects planned for this fiscal year, July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, include:
• Complete Whitham Woods pond renovation.
• Develop a master plan for the Holmes Addition in Jefferson County Park.
• Move Peach Blossom schoolhouse from Round Prairie Park.
• Redesign and renovate the swinging bridge in Jefferson County Park.
• Overlay asphalt in front of shop and nature center.
• Continue to install permanent siding on residence and shop building. Replace windows in residence as needed.
• Upgrade shooting area at Turkey Run Wildlife Area.
• Construct a new latrine at Round Park Prairie.
“Thanks to the countless hours and dedication that have been given by present and past board members of the JCCB and thanks to the financial support that the county supervisors have given the JCCB in the past 40 years,” Lewiston wrote in his report. “The JCCB will strive to provide quality outdoor recreational opportunities for the citizens of Jefferson County for another 40 years and beyond.”