August 04, 2021

Not in my backyard

Residents oppose proposed conservation park; trespassing, theft, privacy and safety top concerns

After it was announced March 15 a 223-acre plot of land owned by Union County and leased as farm ground to a private citizen could become a nature preserve and public recreation area, some of its neighbors brought their concerns to the board of supervisors and members of the Union County Conservation Board Monday afternoon.

Juleen Krings, whose property is adjacent to the proposed site, said safety, privacy and property value are some of the neighbors’ main concerns.

“We’re concerned about demonstrated pattern of disregard for property lines in the areas of public hunting with trespassing, poaching and theft being common issues,” she said.

Krings said the land is difficult to access. Individuals trespass on private properties to gain access.

“We’re concerned about that. We’re concerned about the value of our property. We’re concerned about the destruction of property ... ,” she said.

Neighbors also fear the conservation park won’t be properly maintained. Krings shared pictures of vandalism and structural damage of a community building at Cedar Park as an example of a county-owned public place that has not been well maintained.

“There’s only so many man hours to go around and so many dollars to go around,” she said.

The site of the proposed reserve and recreation area only has one access point into its timber, which begins at the end of 180th Street. She said the lack of accessibility will create congestion in the area and the land isn’t adequate to host an influx of visitors.

“The layout of that isn’t conducive for entry and doesn’t provide easy access from multiple access points,” Krings said. “There’s several creek crossings and wetland areas ... and the terrain is steep ... With numerous ditches, ravines and creeks, it’s unlikely to be able to be maintained.”

The proposed park’s proximity to the landfill and transfer station, and controlled burns to maintain the area, draw added threats for its potential fire risk.

“That’s a methane gas release landfill out there,” Krings said of the flammable gas.

Matt Thelen, who lives next to the land, said an increase in visitors will disturb a peaceful and unpressured environment. He said public hunting will remove all good hunting opportunity the neighboring residents have created by investing in their own property.

In his March presentation to the board, Union County Conservation Director Doug Jones described the conservation park as a nature preserve where native prairie grasses and forb grow, and the public can hike, hunt, and learn about and enjoy nature.

In reference to the conservation board’s proposal, Krings said the plan lacks detail, a budget and a vision for the next three to five years. Jones said the proposal, which was developed at the request of the supervisors, is still in its early stages.

Marc Roberg, a former conservation officer with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said more recreational areas are needed.

“This is public property,” Roberg said Monday. “It’s owned by the people of Union County. The public ought to be able to use land that they own.”

While the property is owned by the county, is not for public use as it is remains under a three-year lease, which ends in February. However, it must be decided in September if the board will choose to renew Larry Bailey’s lease, which generates approximately $13,000 a year for the county. Supervisor Ron Riley, who is in his fourth term, said the land has been leased for as long has he’s been on the board.

Discussions regarding the project will continue. Comments about the project can be brought to the board via public forum, held 9 a.m. Mondays.

SARAH SCULL

Sarah Scull is a San Diego transplant living in Creston, Iowa. Sarah joined the Creston News Advertiser editorial staff as a reporter in in 2012 and was promoted to managing editor in November 2018. After two years in that role, she has since become associate editor to spend her time doing what she loves – writing and photography.