The Clarke County Conservation Board is in the process of acquiring funds for a new building in East Lake Park.
The education building seeks to be a dual purpose facility.
“It will be a place to hold day camps, community programs, seminars, trainings,” said Scott Kent, Clarke County Conservation Director.
The building can be used by law enforcement, fire departments, and other emergency personnel at no cost for training or meetings. When the building is not being used for those purposes, it will be open for rent to the public for weddings, reunions, parties, and other gatherings in a family friendly space not attached to a bar or casino.
“It’s for the Conservation Board, but also for the public to utilize,” said Kent.
Rental costs will vary depending on the day of the week, priced competitively to other local options.
Looking at the counties around Clarke, several have nature centers - the Annett Nature Center in Warren County, Dragoon Trace Nature Center in Ringgold County, and Pin Oak Lodge and Education Center in Lucas County. Leon in neighboring Decatur County is beginning construction on a nature center as well.
“We’re in the middle of these counties and don’t have one,” said Kent.
The conservation board discussed the possibility of opening a nature center in Clarke County, but ultimately decided there is not enough staff to keep one open.
“We tried to think of something that would be more accessible to the public than building a nature center that won’t get used,” said Kent.
During the summer months, several day camps are held at East Lake Park in the park shelters, and bad weather will find them canceled or driven into the conservation office, which only holds about 15 people. With a larger, indoor option, Kent hopes to be able to expand the day camp offerings, and not have to be as reliant on Mother Nature.
The campground at East Lake has also seen an increase in use since it was constructed, often with several groups from the same family.
“A lot want a place with AC or weather safety. [It will] be nice for them to have a place to go,” said Kent.
Size, cost, location
The conservation board has had an engineer provide rough sketches of a building, which puts it at approximately 50 feet wide by 72 feet long, plus an outdoor patio area.
The building will be ADA compliant, and have a kitchen area and restrooms. The floor plan, which is modeled after other community event centers, is expected to hold between 170-180 people.
The building will sit south of the Prairie Flower Shelter in what is a hayfield. It will be on a ridge that overlooks Whitebreast Prairie to the south, East Lake on the west, and a pond to the east.
The estimated cost of the project is $800,000.
To date, the board has received a $200,000 donation from Clarke County Housing Foundation, a $5,000 donation from First Christian Church plus a private individual match, a $200,000 Pillars Grant from Clarke County Development Corporation (contingent on receiving the rest of the necessary funding), and a $5,000 commitment from the Friends of Clarke County Conservation, bringing the current amount raised to $415,000.
Kent is looking into available grants, and has applied for a Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) grant through the Iowa DNR, which can be up to $300,000, though REAP is generally used for land acquisitions as opposed to brick and mortar construction.
“We’re hoping to build with as little taxpayer money as possible,” said Kent.
The campground, which cost half a million to build, were built with very little tax money, and the trail at East Lake Park used less than 10% of taxpayer money. Money made from renting out the building would go towards the upkeep and utilities.
If funding can be secured this year and bidding done over the winter months, Kent is hopeful that they can break ground on the building in 2023, and excited about what all the building can be used for.
“[We] can plan events that will attract the community, get speakers and not have to worry about the weather. Can be inside, or go out on the patio,” said Kent. “I think it will have a lot of use.”
Anyone who wishes to donate to the project can contact Kent at East Lake Park: 641-342-3960, or by email: email@example.com. The Friends of Clarke County Conservation Board, which helps with the board’s funding and promotion, is a 501(c)(3), allowing for donations to be tax-deductible.