Conservation

Dubuque County Conservation Board Executive Director Brian Preston, right, speaks to Brandon Harms, left, and Andrea Kramer of Dubuque, Oct. 10, at the Milllwork Night Market in Dubuque.

Considering the “new norm” of severe weather events in the area, the Dubuque County Conservation Board (DCCB) and consultants are proposing extensive changes to make parks more resilient.

The goal is to create a plan for the next 20 to 25 years based on applied science, according to Ryan Peterson, of RDG Planning & Design.

Conservation board Executive Director Bryan Preston said this was a long time coming.

“We wanted to do this back in 2008, when I came on board, but we were hit with natural disaster after natural disaster for a while,” he said.

And no one backing the plan expects that to change any time soon.

“This is the new norm,” Peterson said. “People will want to argue about why that is, but the infrastructure that worked 30 years ago doesn’t work today.”

For instance, Preston said he and his crew have replaced bridges in parks twice this year, and had to do the same each of the past two years.

“We need to adapt,” he said. “We used to see a major flood along the river every three or four years. Now, we see three or four a year.”

In addition to bridges, conservation crews have to rebuild trails when they are washed out. That can keep them from completing day-to-day tasks such as stocking fish in creeks.

In short, staff is kept so busy trying to keep up with current infrastructure’s shortcomings given the current conditions that they don’t have as much time as they would like for improvements or programming.

The plan’s steering committee — made up of conservation board members, representatives from the cities of Cascade, Dubuque and Dyersville, and nonprofit and business leaders — is guided by a list of principles. The group wants a park system that is built to last, that is driven by the community, science and education, and that is equitable and collaborative, building a caring, engaged and educated public.

While working to increase the system’s resiliency, there is room to improve and add some features for the public.

Large proposed projects include a restructuring of navigation around Swiss Valley Nature Center.

On Oct. 9, somehow five school buses managed to cram into the parking lot for a field trip. But any exit for these or other users required intricate choreography with a margin for error of inches. The plan currently seeks to completely redesign the traffic around the building.

That was a hit with Jeremy Burkart.

“I grew up around Swiss Valley, so I appreciate the effort toward accessibility there,” he said while looking at some of the plans on display Oct. 10 at Millwork Night Market in Dubuque. “I appreciate all their lengths of planning.”

He was less excited about another option presented that night on boards and maps — paving the Heritage Trail. Burkart is a cyclist who uses the trail regularly and would prefer it stay unpaved.

Dozens of people wove through the team’s booth at the market that night, reviewing proposals and options, talking them over with conservation and RDG staff and writing and submitting comments.

Aggie Tauke said she would like to see the Heritage Trail paved, but in general, she was glad people were thinking in this scope.

“They need to look at the long-range future of the parks,” she said. “We use them all the time. We love them.”

Peterson and Preston expect the Heritage Trail to be one of the more divisive of proposed components. But it could help another aspect of the plan: creating a tourist destination, with the trail connecting county parks and activities.

Other possible features include raised tent platforms and canoe/kayak launches along the Little Maquoketa River and hike-in primitive camping at Swiss Valley Nature Preserve.

RDG and county conservation staff will continue a series of community open houses this month to answer questions and collect public input on their plan thus far.

Peterson said the draft report of the plan should be released in late March or early April, after adding input from the public from the open houses and any further study that requires, and another midwinter round of public meetings.