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Peak camping season begins this week

Published: Friday, May 2, 2014 1:28 a.m. CDT

Preparation has been underway for a few weeks now. Campers anxious to get a jump on the camping season after a long winter dealing with one polar vortex after another are going through their equipment, checking supplies so they are ready when the time comes. 

The time has come. The 2014 camping season is finally here.

Iowa state parks are going through the final stages of prep work before hosting more than 700,000 campers and 14 million visitor days this year. And like most years, there will be some new things for them to see.

Visitors to Wilson Island, the beach area at Big Creek and Lake Darling state parks, will see significant changes this summer. 

Wilson Island, north of Council Bluffs, has been closed since the spring of 2011 due to damage from the Missouri River flooding. Visitors should expect the park to look much different than the one before the river left its banks.

The extensive cleanup included removing about one-third of its towering cottonwood trees killed by the floodwaters. The park has received a complete makeover: a new campground, park office and shower building.  The DNR installed a new entrance on the north end of the park to provide access to the campground designed to remain open during flood events.

“Our neighbors demonstrated their resiliency when they cleaned up and rebuilt their homes and their patience and support for this project has been important each step of the way,” said Todd Coffelt, chief of state parks for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Wilson Island is expected to reopen in early summer. It will be rededicated in July.

Big Creek, north of Des Moines, will showcase a completely new beach area with three large shelters, 10 beachside cabanas and new rest rooms. Big Creek State Park will be rededicated in June.

Lake Darling, southwest of Washington, is expected to open midsummer and will be rededicated in September. 

Lake Darling will be a new park at an old address. The entire park – and lake – has been renovated and will feature a new campground, shower building, universally accessible fishing trail, roads, lake, dam and more.

“We are counting down the days when Lake Darling will reopen. This park will be a magnet drawing visitors from across southeast Iowa and beyond,” Coffelt said.  “We had such excellent support from the park friends group who was willing to take on fundraising and any other tasks we needed help with.”

Other parks will be receiving facility improvements this summer in the form of new latrines and trail bridges, but most of the construction is scheduled for after Labor Day, to minimize the impact during the recreation season.

New playgrounds will be going in at Waubonsie, Wilson Island and AA Call and expanded at Lake Anita in early summer.

Look for interpretive programs at Lake Ahquabi, Ledges, George Wyth, Pikes Peak, Bellevue, Mines of Spain, Lewis and Clark and in parts around the Iowa Great Lakes.  The visitors’ center is now open at Lewis and Clark. Check the DNR’s events calendar at for more information.

Honey Creek Resort State Park also offers interpretive programs. New for 2014, the resort will offer paddle boards to its long list of outdoor items available to rent. Its RV park, cottages and hotel offer comfortable accommodations along the north shore of Lake Rathbun. 

Ten parks will have concessions. Backbone, Beeds Lake, Big Creek, Lake Ahquabi, Lake Macbride, Rock Creek, Viking Lake, Lake Manawa, Springbrook and Pikes Peak will have snacks, firewood and other concession items. Backbone, Beeds Lake, Big Creek, Lake Ahquabi, Lake Macbride, Rock Creek and Viking Lake will have boats available to rent.

Check equipment

Before heading to the campground, campers should spend some time going through their equipment to make sure it’s in working order.

Check tents for holes, make sure tent poles are not cracked, the lantern still works and new batteries are packed. RV owners should check their breakers, make sure the tires are properly inflated, roof seams are sealed and their propane tanks are filled. 

Check the first aid kit, the toolbox and cookware. 

It’s better to find problems at home rather than after arriving at the campsite. After all, last fall was a long time ago.

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