By Natalie Conrad
Herald Staff Writer
GRAND MOUND —
Conservation education in Clinton County has skyrocketed with help from the new Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center and a full staff of naturalists.
This year marked the start of a new era for the education program at Clinton County Conservation, according to the fiscal year education report compiled by Education Coordinator Mark Roberts.
“We got a small taste of what things will be like with the new Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center and hired a fourth full-time naturalist, Jill Schmidt,” Roberts said. “Records were shattered across the board for events, attendance and contact hours.”
Number of events at Eden Valley Refuge increased by 8 percent from last year. Rock Creek Marina and Campground held a record 140 events. This marks the first time that it has surpassed the Wapsi Center for number of events.
“Rock Creek is popular, but its biggest and best years still lie ahead,” Roberts said. “We will see a jump next year from the new Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center.”
The Blue Heron continues to be a catalyst for growth at Rock Creek. It was a record year for Eco Cruises with 163 cruises for 3,976 people for a 24-person per cruise average.
Overall, growth exceeded expectations in 2012 and that growth is expected to continue throughout 2013 and beyond as more groups discover the Eco Center, facilities are upgraded and staff reaches their potential.
Events and presentations by staff were up with 664 events and 2,461 presentations in 2012, up from 602 and 2,054 in 2011. Total cumulative attendance at these events and presentations trumped last year’s numbers with 62,928 in 2012 from 51,029 in 2011.
“Our naturalists did a great job of drawing groups in,” Roberts said.
The report also identified future goals for Clinton Conservation. Short-term goals include increasing the conservation education budget, increase winter programming, finalizing plans for Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center educational displays, establishing a natural playscape at the new facility, further developing county web sites and more. Long-term goals include continually improving the quality and variety of education programming, working to benefit other state and local organizations and promoting public awareness and elevate programs and parks of Clinton County Conservation.
“All numbers are trending the right way,” Roberts said. “Busier means we are making more impact.”
• An artist from Midwest Exhibits is beginning work on wall murals in the Eco Center.
• The Board approved a Habitat Stamp Grant.
• The Board approved a purchase agreement with Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation for a hunting area in Wheatland. This agreement will cover funds for acquiring the property through December 2013, when Clinton County Conservation will take over the expenses. The cost of $181,000 will be used toward purchasing the 181 acres of land south of U.S. 30.