Moving forward

-Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Joe Sutter Park Ranger Amber O’Neill explains the plan for adding gravel to this trail, to enable horses to get from the south campground to the 12 miles of gravel trail around the lake at Brushy Creek Recreation Area.

BRUSHY CREEK — As camping season opens in the coming weeks, Brushy Creek State Recreation Area is also marking a change in its organizational structure.

The Brushy Creek Trails Advisory Board has been eliminated.

This is a good move for the park, said Park Manager Amber O’Neill. Now is the perfect time to put together a Brushy Creek Friends group which can advocate for and bring improvements to the park.

“The board was put in in 1989,” O’Neill said. “It was part of the compromise of the lake being built. There were upset horse riders, with their trails being flooded, so they created this trails advisory board to help with the future development of the trail system.”

The creation of the lake was quite controversial at the time, she said. Back then, the advisory board laid out the plans for the new trails in what’s now the south part of the recreation area.

“It’s served its purpose. Our trail system has been established for many years; we’re not in position to create any new trails,” O’Neill said.

The board was created by legislative action — and originally had all board members appointed by legislators — so it took another vote in Des Moines to dissolve the group. A policy bill passed the Senate on March 19.

A friends group will help the park with fundraising, promotion and volunteer projects, O’Neill said.

“A lot of parks in Iowa have friends groups. They can be tax exempt, can apply for grants, they can do all kinds of special events and fundraising activities I’m not allowed to do,” she said. “They can talk to legislators; I can’t do that. As state employees we have to be neutral.”

A Backcountry Horsemen of Iowa group has already started to get more involved, O’Neill said, and raised $4,000 for the park last fall with a poker run.

It can be a little harder to bring together volunteers who love the park, since so many come to Brushy from out of the area.

“Our fishermen and our horseback riders are scattered across the state or several states,” O’Neill said.

There’s a lot of paperwork to be done, setting up the Friends group with the IRS. O’Neill said the group will probably start with the current board members, and then may expand to more general membership.

Ledges State Park has long had a vibrant Friends group, she said. Groups at parks around the state have raised money for shower buildings, or trail improvements, or new playgrounds. One even put in a new trail bridge. But they can also help on smaller projects, like getting buildings or picnic tables painted.

“They have a bank account, and they can purchase things for the park outside of our budgeting rules,” she said. “We always need improvements on the trail system and the campgrounds. Unfortunately with our budget shortfalls, there’s just never much money for capital improvements.”

Some work is planned for the coming year, though. For instance the park is adding gravel to one trail that runs from the south end of the park up to the existing equestrian trail around the lake.

“That’s our number one complaint,” O’Neill said. “There’s no good way for the horses to get from here up to the gravel trail.”

Spring may have been late in coming this year, but O’Neill and her staff were hard at work last week getting the campgrounds ready for visitors–and numerous people were calling in interested, she said.

A camping kickoff will be held in two weeks, with a public program at 3:30 p.m. May 5 at the Lakeview Shelter.

Before that, there’s more work to be done.

A volunteer clean-up day will be held this Saturday. Volunteers will meet at the park office and will pick up sticks and garbage in campgrounds, picnic areas, fishing areas and trails.