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Dubuque County makes progress on water trail plans

Big Papillion Creek
Posted at 1:13 PM, Jul 31, 2022

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — Dubuque County Conservation has been making steady progress in developing its canoeing and kayaking infrastructure, with the intended destination of a full, countywide water trail in the coming years.

The development of kayaking opportunities was identified as a top priority through public input gathered during the department’s long-term strategic planning process in 2020. In response, Dubuque County funded a recently completed project at Bowstring Wildlife Area to create better water access for paddlers and further the county’s water quality improvement goals.

The conservation department recently finished a streambank stabilization project in the wildlife area along Lytle Creek, a project that included seeding the banks with prairie grasses. Workers installed a crossing on the creek so conservation staff can maintain the prairie, but it also will serve as a kayak launch point.

“We have a graveled path down to the creek and are in the process of developing a parking lot so people can put in or pull out more easily,” said Brian Preston, Dubuque County Conservation executive director.

The Dubuque Telegraph Herald reports the effort fits in with plans to establish a state-designated water trail in Dubuque County. Preston said parking and ease of access for paddlers are some of the things a water trail can provide.

“A water trail is similar to a hiking trail where you have a designated route for people to access and get in,” he said. “It’s really to make it safer. People are already using those streams. So we want to keep people from parking on roadways, getting them safe, apparent access points.”

County conservation staff applied for and received an Iowa Department of Natural Resources water trail development planning grant, through which the state pays for the creation of a plan for a county to establish a water trail. Preston said the planning effort will incorporate the North Fork of the Maquoketa River, Lytle Creek and the Little Maquoketa River.

The DNR selects one county each year for this planning grant, which state Water Trails Coordinator John Wenck said can cost $60,000 to just over $70,000.

Wenck said early efforts in the planning process include gathering stakeholder feedback, which has been done in Dubuque County.

“The plans are designed to create community around the river,” he said. “We end up communicating with all the land managers. We talk to them about issues they might be having. We bring in the paddlers. We talk with law enforcement and hear any concerns they have.”

Conservation staff also have been holding public paddles, where they allow participants without their own kayaks and canoes to rent county-owned ones for $10. This helps inform the public of local paddling opportunities while conservation staff gather feedback from attendees.

Preston said information gleaned from input his department receives eventually will help keep paddlers and the public safe and protected.

“We want to inform people on what is allowed on our water,” he said. “Most of it is through private property, so getting out of the stream and going through private property is not allowed, for instance. This will also allow us to put up signage, especially about hazards — like a log jam or something if it’s in the way.”

Korrin Schriver helped co-found the Dubuque Kayak and Paddlers group on Facebook with her husband, Sean Schriver. She said she was excited about the county’s efforts.

“This will help people who maybe don’t have consistent access to kayaks know these systems are here,” she said. “(Public paddles are) a great way to get people exposed to kayaking and canoeing. And the more new launches they put in, the easier it is going to be for people — especially those with mobility issues — to get started.”

Having a plan and designated state water trail can help secure future funding from the Iowa DNR.

“We have a pot of money every year that goes to funding projects like new accesses, ease of access improvement,” Wenck said. “The grants are scored in such a way that favors designated trails.”

Dubuque County will be the second area county to finish a water trail plan. Delaware County officials previously developed one for the Maquoketa River, which helped lead to the development of Manchester Whitewater Park.

“They had a little head dam they mitigated and created a whitewater park instead of it,” Wenck said. “There were a lot of funding sources for that, but we were one.”

Wenck said the amount of money given to the state’s water trails program by the state Legislature has fluctuated. The current fiscal year’s budgeted amount is $1.5 million.

Wenck said he is excited to help showcase Dubuque County’s unique water features.

“Dubuque County is unique in that these rivers or water bodies they’re developing as water trails are narrow, sinuous,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to rate many of those as beginner, but people come from out of state to these stretches.”

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