Silver Sioux Recreation Area, the most popular area in the Cherokee County Park system, is due for an update, according to the Cherokee County Conservation Board. For many years, and under changing leadership, the Conservation Board staff has attempted to improve services for park visitors, only to meet with various obstacles ranging from mixed public opinion to insufficient funds. Efforts have been redoubled, and the outlook is very positive, according to Chairman Brad Husman of rural Quimby.
"Silver Sioux park is a unique destination," Husman stated when asked about the project. The five-member conservation board, appointed by the Cherokee County Board of Supervisors, is, in his words, "committed to continuing improvement and expansion of Silver Sioux park, an awesome destination any time of year."
Silver Sioux Recreation Area, or SSRA, takes its name from its location, at the confluence of Silver Creek and the Little Sioux River about two miles east and a mile north of Quimby on Silver Sioux Road. The historical significance of the area has been recorded in stories passed down from homesteaders, and in artifacts remaining from indigenous nations that enjoyed the beauty and bounty of the area for thousand of years before European settlement. The Inkpaduta Canoe Trail on the Little Sioux River, a 134-mile regional water trail, is accessible via the SSRA concrete boat ramp. Fishing in this section of the river is consistently good.
The park features over three miles of mowed trails and park roads, reconstructed prairie and shrub plantings, an arboretum, old bur oak timber, natural springs and flood plain grassland. Hunting is permitted from Oct. 1 through April 30. It is a favorite area for local bird watchers, as well. The campground includes a primitive area as well as modern campsites with electricity. Six picnic shelters, a ball field, a small outdoor amphitheater, an enclosed four-season Lodge, and the Barn, a restored loafing barn used in the Roy Little family dairy operation prior to county ownership, round out the facilities available to park visitors.
Visitors are welcome year-round, although the park roads are closed from December through May, during snow season. Every spring the Cherokee County ISU Extension hosts two days of outdoor classroom activities for sixth graders from three school districts at SSRA. In the summer, the campground and rental barn are busy with visitors from near and far.
Last year, approximately 70 percent of the campers came from outside of Cherokee County. Six percent of those were from states other than Iowa. While camping fees are relatively modest, the money contributed by these non-resident campers is welcome income for the county. The majority of groups renting the Barn and Lodge come from within Cherokee County. In 2004, Silver Sioux facilities hosted church services and picnics, weddings, graduation celebrations, birthday parties, family reunions, school events and private retreats.
Outdoor recreation in Iowa is increasing in popularity and importance as local economies come to grips with their resources. Most of Iowa's counties have found a need to attract tourists while providing comfortable and convenient activities that encourage residency as well. Clay, Woodbury, Plymouth, O'Brien and Buena Vista Counties have each completed or begun installation of outdoor recreational facilities to enhance their communities.
In order to keep pace with the expectations and preferences of park visitors, Cherokee County plans to provide a comfort station at SSRA, including showers, flush toilets and sinks. As past visitors are well aware, existing facilities consist of pit toilets and a few outdoor hydrants. Additionally, 20-Amp and 50-Amp breakers will be added to the existing 30-Amp breakers provided at all modern campsites to accommodate a wider range of recreational vehicles, and the infrastructure for high-speed Internet and cable television hook-ups will be installed. Rural water service will be provided at a shared hydrant for every two campsites. A playground for young visitors is in the planning stages.
The Lodge, at the base of the former winter tubing hill, will receive some major renovations as well. Within the existing building, the Conservation Board plans to add two bedrooms, a full bathroom and a kitchenette, while maintaining a large common space surrounding the central fireplace. The building will remain spacious enough for organizations that have used it in the past for winter gatherings, and improved insulation, heating and cooling systems will make the building more comfortable. The bunk rooms will accommodate groups, families, and intimate getaways overlooking the Little Sioux River any time of the year.
Can the county afford the improvements? Scott Gebers, County Conservation Board Director, estimates the cost of the entire project to be nearly $220,000. The Board of Supervisors has committed $20,000 toward the project, to be drawn from the Community Betterment fund provided by the local option sales tax. Over the past year, several local businesses have made pledges of materials and supplies for the park, in the amount of about $3000. The Conservation Board has committed $20,000 from its Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) account, which receives annual installments from the state.
The remaining funds are being actively sought through state and federal grants and private contributions. Local contributions, including the Community Improvement and REAP funds, are being used to leverage money from sources outside of the county. The economic returns may be swift, according to Gebers. With adequate funding the work can be completed over a matter of months.
Camping fees per site will increase slightly to compensate for increased electrical and water costs, although results for similar facilities in other locations indicate that park use will increase substantially in spite of higher fees. Changes in the rental rate for the Lodge have not been determined. When asked about maintenance of the proposed facilities, Gebers and the board agreed that very little will change from current manpower and supply requirements.
Day users and campers alike are expected to enjoy the more sanitary restroom and lodging facilities, the improved utilities and the new playground, and the Board hopes better facilities will encourage longer stays and more visitors. According to Gebers, "If we can get families out there to enjoy the river and the landscape, the people and the environment will benefit in the long run."
"This is a very positive project for the community," says Gebers, "Public input, including letters, comments, financial contributions, and pledges of materials and services are welcome and needed to complete these upgrades."
The Iowa Whitewater Alliance and the Iowa Water Trails Association (IWTA), organizations that support the improvement of paddling trails statewide, have both expressed their support for the project due to its proximity to the Inkpaduta Canoe Trail. Gerry Rowland, President of "WTA, has stated in a letter of support for the project that "the recreational water trail will be most definitely enhanced through the upgrading of the park, as will economic development for the area."
To contact the Cherokee County Conservation Board, call 225-6709, or write or visit them at 629 River Road, Cherokee. Additional information about the CCCB and county parks is available at www.cherokeecountyparks.com.
Contributions for the SSRA projects may be sent to the above address. Contributors should indicate in writing that the funds are intended for the Silver Sioux Recreation Area improvements.