POLK CITY — Nearly $3 million worth of new features and renovations at Big Creek State Park will be highlighted in a celebration on July 17, from 3-6:30 p.m. The event will be held in the beach area where some of the most visible improvements are located.
Big Creek’s beach is the largest in the Iowa’s state park system and the park itself is one of the busiest, drawing more than 350,000 visitors from the Des Moines metro area and beyond each year.
Three large 68- by 40-foot shelters and three adjacent restrooms facilities were built to meet visitor needs. The shelters, which will each accommodate roughly 200 people, include handicapped-accessible picnic tables and are available to rent through the state park reservation system. Additionally, nine new 10- by 10-foot cabana shelters, located along the beach edge, are now available to visitors on a first come, first served basis.
“All of the developments are designed to improve or add to the recreational opportunities here at Big Creek,” says Chad Kelchen, park manager. “We began this whole endeavor back in 2011 and completed it in time for the 2014 summer season. There is no question, for example, this past Fourth of July weekend we were much better able to provide shelter and serve to our growing number of users.”
In addition to the beach area improvements, four of the five boat ramps received major renovations to better accommodate fishing and boating enthusiasts on both sides of the 822-acre lake.
Some of the most important improvements at Big Creek are likely some of the less noticeable to the public.
To date, $425,000 has been invested in watershed practices to improve the water quality of the lake, with an additional $580,000 yet to be spent. Conservation practices are in place on both private and public land in the Big Creek watershed.
Dog service and tallgrass plantings help discourage geese at the beach, and rain gardens filter runoff from boat ramps. Information panels on two kiosks at the beach help interpret water quality improvements to the public, and a watershed project coordinator and halftime watershed outreach coordinator continue to implement improvements prescribed in the new watershed management plan.
These recent improvements represent a commitment by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to the overall future improvement of state park infrastructure, recreational opportunities and water quality.
The July 17 celebration is free to the public, and will include exhibits by Big Creek partners. Also, a variety of recreational activities that can be done at Big Creek, such as paddling, model airplanes, disc golf and biking will be demonstrated and available to try in and around the beach area. A brief dedication program will begin at 4:15 p.m. in shelter #3 followed by a light meal courtesy of Big Creek Concessions.
Iowa communities with a population over 5,000 have the opportunity to learn more about tree care, identification and inventory in their community through a grant from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Most of these target communities do not have dedicated forestry personnel or expertise, but may have staff that can be trained that would allow each community to have a sustainable forestry program.
The two-year grant program will accept 10 communities this year, and 10 next year. Each community will receive intensive training by a team from the Iowa DNR including district foresters, urban forestry, forest health, urban council and members from the Iowa Arborists Association.
Training will cover tree identification, health, inventory, planting, corrective pruning and maintenance, benefits of urban trees, ordinances and community outreach.
Through this cooperative effort between the Iowa DNR and the U.S. Forest Service, each selected community will have a complete street tree inventory, canopy cover analysis, and an urban tree management plan with goals and methods to increase its tree canopy.
“This is an ideal way for communities to learn how to prepare for, and manage, emerald ash borer, as well as make their community more livable by increasing the urban tree canopy,” said Laura Wagner, with the Iowa DNR’s Forestry Bureau.
Grant applications and instructions are available online at http://www.iowadnr.gov/Environment/Forestry/UrbanForestry.aspx. The deadline to apply is September 1.