For the Des Moines County Conservation Department, nothing is truly out of reach.
This past week, Des Moines County Conservation Director Chris Lee held a presentation for the board of supervisors and the conservation board outlining how the department has grown and changed during the past several years and how strategic planning is fundamental in the process.
“We don’t always know how we will accomplish everything, but we have accomplished 90 percent of what we set out to do,” Lee said.
A key part of how the goals were met was through strategic planning. Lee said his department put together a list of tasks they wanted to accomplish based on what the community said they want.
“We want to meet the wants of our community,” Lee said.
Part of meeting those needs includes expanding the department’s education program. Throughout the year, Lee and his staff educate children, teens and adults in the community through community programs and classroom visits. Lee said each year when reservations from school begin to arrive, his staff spends all day on the phone making up the schedule.
Another part of meeting those needs is creating a five-year plan with a list of goals. With a full-time staff of seven, Lee said his department has time in the offseason to plan for each upcoming year. Other departments, he said, aren’t so lucky.
As for the next plan, Lee said he would like to add 10 to 15 more recreational vehicle sites at Big Hollow Recreation Area to allow for more campers to be on the site. In the plan, this would be done without cutting down trees in the recreational area.
“I don’t know how we will do it, but we will do it,” Lee said.
This year was unusually busy at the camp, and many weekends during the summer were chocked full of campers. Lee hopes the pressure will be alleviated with Lake Geode’s reopening in the spring.
Lee said his goal is not to make Big Hollow a competitor to Lake Geode, but for Big Hollow to have its own set of amenities that their niche wants to see.
“We don’t want to be Geode, we want to be Big Hollow,” Lee said.
Although Lee sees the two campsites as complementary, he feels there is a difference in the experience campers get between the two sites.
Lake Geode, Lee said, has smaller campsites closer together. He said this works great for groups of campers who want to be near each other.
However, Big Hollow has a different vibe, opting instead for bigger campsites. Lee said some of the sites can easily fit an RV, a boat, and two vehicles. This provides for more privacy and more space for activities.
Big Hollow also has more modern amenities including indoor plumbing and wireless internet. In the next five years, Lee wants to see Big Hollow get paved roads, making it an even more camper friendly place.
“We turned away 137 vehicles. The camp host keeps track,” Lee said. “Those are people who showed up ready to camp and we didn’t have room for them.”
Lee said his hope is always that if campers are turned away from Big Hollow, they will decide to drive a few miles up the road to camp at Lake Geode.
Lee said the other big change he would like to see is creating one building at Big Hollow where all the conservation staff offices can be held. Currently, the staff running Big Hollow have their office at the park, the staff running the education program keep their office at the education center and Lee and his administrative assistant keep an office in West Burlington.