It's official. There's a sign now marking the beginning of Whitetail Ridge at Fort Defiance State Park.
The sign marks the beginning of the trail featuring a number of points of interest, including flora and fauna indigenous to the park.
Friends of Fort Defiance President Gary Phillips and wife Yvonne placed the sign on the kiosk Tuesday so hikers can now get a point of reference as to where the trail begins. The kiosk, by the way, was built by Iowa Lakes Community College building trades program students while the sign was made by students in Debbie Wilson's graphic design program at Iowa Lakes Community College. Another of Debbie's many hats is that she's Friends secretary.
Phillips and his conservation studies students have done an enormous amount of work on the trail, along with help from the Friends. It's one of three major trails constructed in the park over the past several years. The other two include the prairie trial on the south side of the park and a trail starting from the native prairie area near the east side of the park and following Spring Creek to School Creek. That trail includes several bridges - or dock sections - that the DNR installed a few years ago.
None of this work has been easy. Often, it has included working on 100-degree heat, fighting mosquitoes and poison ivy, witnessing the mindless damage of vandals who destroyed railings on bridges along School Creek and dealing with dwindling park maintenance funds.
Since its inception, though, the Friends group has, through the assistance of a number of groups, been able to not only maintain but to improve the park.
Those helping have included:
n The Emmet County Community Foundation which gave the Friends group grants for a brochure promoting the park and for park benches.
n Gary Phillips' environmental studies students at Iowa Lakes Community College.
n Inman Electric, Valley Contracting and Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative for help with installing the new 50-amp electrical service in the campground.
n John Semrad for building and placing picnic benches in the park at a cost so low that the Friends group suspects that he actually lost money on the job.
n The late Randy Beaver, beloved by all who remembered him, for hauling woodchips for the Whitetail Ridge trail.
n Steve Reighard for his heroic efforts to work with the Friends group in a way that was far, far above and beyond the call of duty.
n The Iowa Department of Natural Resources for giving the Friends the ability to "run with it" and make improvements in the park.
n Roger Hash for grooming cross-country ski trails in the park.
n The many Friends members and other volunteers, including members of the Nature Conservancy, who have donated countless hours to making a better park. They include Troy Larson's basketball players who provided an enormous amount of muscle on several occasions as well as Gary Phillips' students who worked out a good deal of "sweat equity" as part of their coursework.
n And to everyone else we haven't mentioned - which includes a lot of people - we give our great thanks.
And let's not forget the heroic efforts of Americorps volunteers who rebuilt the trails in 2000 - six years before the Friends group formed. Their work went a long way toward limiting the damage that came with a six-inch rain a few years later.
Fort Defiance State Park is a tremendous resource - both recreationally and as an economic engine - to our area. You can help further their efforts by joining. Memberships are only $10 per individual or family per year and may be sent to: Friends of Fort Defiance, P.O. Box 314, Estherville, IA 51334.
Whether or not you're a Friends member, you're invited to enjoy the park - because as a taxpayer it's yours. If you've never been there, the easiest way is to take County N25 South just off Highway 9 on the west edge of Estherville. So about a mile south just past Estherville Golf Course and look for the park on your left. You can camp or you can rent the lodge for a family reunion, business luncheon or wedding reception. Or you can just take the family to the park for a picnic. It's a great place for a jog or to hike on the trails.
Also check out the Daily News for upcoming work sessions and meetings. And remember to mark your calendar for the second annual Fort Defiance Day Saturday, Oct. 6.