I braved walking my dogs at Cedar Bend Park recently since they can be off leash during the hunting season. The entrance to our favorite path on the so called “interpretive trail” was blocked by a large pile of old, busted-up concrete. I wondered if someone had illegally dumped it there. There’s nothing interpretive about the trail anymore; the signage has long since rotted away. A large dead tree limb hangs dangerously over the trail near the entrance, so I drove on to the campground entrance with its drab, shabby, and filthy metal maintenance buildings.
To reach the trailheads, we walked through the park junkyard. It is an unsightly area with piles of old rusting iron of various sorts, old abandoned playground equipment, a discarded refrigerator, barbecue grills, broken camp chairs, some rusty oil barrels, a couple of large worn rubber tires, and other trash left by campers. There is a huge stack of old picnic tables overgrown with weeds. They still have their iron frames but the wooden parts have rotted and are covered with moss. The Bremer County Conservation Board (BCCB) must have plenty of money because it looks like they just buy new tables instead of replacing the seats and table tops with new wooden boards. There is plenty of available wood lumber lying about exposed to the weather and quietly rotting away. It’s unfortunate that park workers don’t take advantage of Waverly’s metal recycle program to get rid of the old iron, but they would rather interrupt their labors to lecture visitors on park rules and regulations regarding dogs.
We took the hiking trail along the river to the footbridge where a sign reads “no horses allowed on bridges.” It’s not safe for people either because the planks are severely rotted. To return to the park entrance, we walked through the campground area that the BCCB operates as a mobile home park.
The primary purpose of the 1955 Iowa law allowing for the establishment of county conservation boards was to “conserve,” which meant to protect, our natural environment from destruction. The idea for the law was to acquire land through purchase or donation to keep it from exploitation. Unfortunately, the law didn’t keep the Conversation Boards themselves from becoming exploiters. They quickly learned that there was money to be made from camp fees and began establishing campsites that evolved into unsightly trailer home parks reminiscent of the ‘50s.
Our State Parks and National Parks enforce strict rules that limit stays to two weeks. BCCB regulations also limit stays to two weeks, but with a wink or two from the right person, certain privileged people are permitted to set up permanent residence for up to half a year, from May 1 to November 1. I personally know two such parties, not Bremer County residents, who reside regularly at Cedar Bend all season, so I assume there are others. The heart of the campground becomes a community established by the BCCB to support a life style that has nothing to do with recreation. Bremer County is not unique to this form of exploitation. There are others even worse, where on the first of May, the big motor homes come rumbling into the parks to hog the choice spots for the whole season.
The 1955 law makes “conservation areas” available for recreation for “the inhabitants of the county.” The law says nothing about establishing campgrounds for the kind of “recreation” lawmakers had in mind. But, they were specifically targeting the people who were to benefit as “the inhabitants of the county.” Excessive camping is ruining our National Park and is negatively impacting our state and county parks too. They’re not tourist attractions.
“Mother Earth” is fighting back and will ultimately win. We’re in a climate crisis. Ask any farmer who has struggled through two consecutive years of weather related problems getting crops planted and harvested. Climatologists say this is not the new normal because weather-related problems will continue to worsen every year. Climate change is also creating serious problems for our wilderness areas and they will get a lot worse. The scientists who warned of global warming 30 years ago thought that the climate change we now experience wouldn’t come until the next century, not this one. They are starting to get more than concerned. They’re getting scared!
About 98% of BCCB’s 4,300 acres border on or surround rivers and streams that can now be expected to flood every spring and fall from excessive rain that will make camping unpleasant. Increasing humidity will drive up heat indices to over 100 degrees for most of the summer. No one will want to spend much time outdoors in those conditions.
There is reason for hope however. A strong indicator of a looming recession, RV sales declined last year by 20% and the long term future of the RV industry is full of uncertainty. Sooner or later, there will be a hefty carbon tax that will make operating RVs unaffordable for most people and the camping business, as we have known it, will come to an end. The RV industry is understandably very worried about its long term future.
The BCCB manages 4,300 acres which is more than twice the number for the average Iowa county. The BCCB is to be congratulated for its success, but isn’t 4,300 acres enough? Isn’t it time to start the transition from conservation to preservation, which means maintaining lands in or returning them to their original state and leaving nature alone?