The Ottumwa Courier

October 13, 2012

State Park head is listening

DNR says they needed to know what park visitors think

Courier Staff Writer

DRAKESVILLE — Nature lovers in Appanoose, Davis and Wapello counties had a chance to be heard by decision makers this week.

“These meetings are designed to allow our users to tell us directly what they want from their state park,” said Kevin Szcodronski, chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ State Parks Bureau.

“It was crowded,” said Kevin Baskins, a DNR spokesman who attended the Lake Wapello meeting. “We had about 50 people. It was very evident they are passionate about that park.”

And there were some concerns raised Thursday night.

“Some want to see upgrades to the electric campsites,” he said. “As campers have gotten bigger, they draw more power. When you get a [lot] of them together, all drawing juice, you have electrical [problems].”

At Lake Wapello’s meeting, the bureau chief told the Courier, visitors weren’t necessarily enthusiastic about the native wild grasses being grown in prairie areas.

“There’s questions about the prairies. Some people like them,” Szcodronski said. “Others say it’s just an excuse so we don’t have to mow.”

The consensus in Drakesville Thursday?

“They’d like to see more mowing,” Baskins said. “Especially, the entrance was mentioned [several] times. Prairies [here] are not such a big deal.”

The crowds do go to the park for an outdoor, natural experience, Baskins acknowledged, but differing populations have different ideas about what a fun weekend includes.

“Honestly, I believe it’s generational,” Baskins said.

Though there are always exceptions, crowds typically have shown that the older generation enjoys a manicured, attractive landscape, while the younger generation wants a wild, more natural appearance.  

“The older people have deep, deep ties to those parks, but it might have also been nice to have some younger people’s input,” Baskins said about the statewide meetings. “The one thing that does shine through at every one of these meetings is how important, how valuable the state parks are to people.”

One of the suggestions locally was to make Lake Wapello State Park more of a draw during the off season.

“More year-round amenities, maybe more cabins available during the winter, put in another lodge that could be used year-round,” he added.

One thing constituents asked for that may not be possible to  honor: more DNR employees working.

“Staffing is very much a function of the economy,” said Baskins. “But we’re in a kind of Catch-22: When the economy is [bad], people are looking for [inexpensive entertainment] options. So have more [visitors] but fewer staff.”

Thankfully, he said, Lake Wapello has a very active Friends group. People volunteer, make donations and generally participate in the upkeep of their park.

Still, Iowans aren’t looking for luxury, both men said.

“Maybe a few more electrical hookups, nothing super elaborate,” Szcodronski said. “They want their parks. They want us to maintain what we have and make sure it’s going to be around into the future.”

Those involved park visitors have helped in another way, the DNR said. Having people show up on a weeknight to share what’s important to them turns out to be important to the DNR.

They’ll analyze the data they’ve put together. Then, when they have departmental meetings or do parks planning, they’ll know what the people are looking for. Plus, Baskins said, when they go before the Iowa House, they can tell legislators what the people are looking for.

“You can’t believe how valuable this information is to us,” he said.