A big pat on the back goes to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for bringing a crew to install bridges at Fort Defiance State Park Wednesday.
The crew put two bridges over Spring Creek and another over School Section Creek after building up the creek bank. The bridges will go far to help replace other bridges damaged by high water over the past several years.
The Spring Creek trail bridges are particularly interesting due to the fact that they are for a new, half-mile trail built by the Friends of Fort Defiance over the past two summers. The low-gradient trail is a fairly easy walk for anyone in fairly good physical condition. The trail, built with the assistance and guidance of the DNR, is far less prone to washouts than the earlier trails built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
The DNR has been subject to unwarranted criticism over the past several years by some people for not maintaining the property it owns. In reality, the DNR is only capable of doing what it is legally warranted and funded to do.
A habitat fee of $11.50 is charged on every resident hunting license. That entire fee is slated to go for habitat acquistion with none going toward facilities improvements.
If the DNR is able to exercise a multiple-use concept for its lands, it needs to have its hands freed to use part of the habitat fee for property improvements. The best way to do that is for everyone to contact their state legislators and encourage legislation to have part of the fee used for improvements, not just for property acquisition.
Despite the challenges, though, it is great to see the DNR doing everything it can to improve its facilities, like the new bridges at Fort Defiance.
By doing so, they help "fuel the fire in the bellies" of the members of the local friends group and encourage them to work even harder to improve the park.
Improving Fort Defiance State Park will make it an economic engine to spur development in our area. Electrical upgrades are scheduled to take place any day now in the campground, and hopefully, some way will be found to install showers in the campground.
The DNR should be encouraged to continue with improvements for a number of reasons:
n Park usage is up tremendously since the local friends group began working on park projects and their work was made public through the media. The park has seen constant camping since last spring and lodge rentals have gone up as well. There are also more hikers, walkers and youth groups than ever before.
n An investment in the park will spur greater visitation. More visitors will mean more revenue which will help pay for improvements.
n More visitation will bring more business to Estherville restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores and other businesses.
Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a great partnership between the DNR, the Friends of Fort Defiance and the Estherville community.
To join the Friends of Fort Defiance, send $5 for individual or $10 for family membership to Friends of Fort Defiance, Membership Committee, P.O. Box 314, Estherville, IA 51334.