60 Years of Conservation in Polk County

60 years and counting! 2016 marks another milestone year since Polk County Conservation's (PCC)inception. The organization has come a long way since its humble beginnings back in 1956. Let's take a look at PCC's historical past, dynamic present and the exciting future that lies ahead. 

The Organization

Polk County Conservation Board (PCCB) is governed by five members appointed by the Polk County Board of Supervisors. Its mission is to provide the citizens of Polk County with quality outdoor recreation, conservation education and the long-term protection of Polk County’s natural heritage. This effort is carried out by full-time and seasonal staff including Natural Resources Specialists, Rangers, Environmental Educators, Construction & Maintenance crews, Administration and Support Staff, as well as hundreds of volunteers.

The early days

Staff a few years back - my, how we have grown!

The Past

Polk County Conservation Board (PCCB) was created by the voters of Polk County to acquire, develop and maintain areas devoted to conservation and public recreation. Based on the landmark 1955 County Conservation Law passed by the Iowa State Legislature, the 99 county conservation boards in Iowa have developed one of the most successful conservation programs in the United States. It is impossible to imagine what Polk County would be like without a Conservation Board.

PCC administration offices were first housed in the courthouse downtown Des Moines. A strategic move of the conservation headquarters to Jester Park occurred in 1967. We have called this place home ever since as we continue to add public places for citizens and visitors of Polk County to enjoy. 


The Present

PCC has accomplished a tremendous amount of goals in recent years. The 20+ park and wildlife areas managed today by PCC are visited by more than 1.9 million people each year. Our Family of Parks includes over 45miles of  paved trails and 40 miles of natural trails. Our public recreation areas cover more than 14,000 acres in the state's most populous county. Since the historic passing of the Polk County Water and Land Legacy (PCWLL) bond referendum in 2012, critical funding for projects has boosted our organization's ability to fulfill our mission statement to the fullest capacity. 

Land protection has resulted in improved wildlife habitat

PCWLL bond funds have helped to acquire more than 700 acres of sensitive land since its induction. Land acquisition for recreational trails and greenbelts, and land and wildlife habitat protection as well as water quality within the agricultural landscape of central Iowa have become top priorities in recent years. These projects have become attainable thanks in part to this funding. These acquisitions will become increasingly important in the coming decade as the metropolitan population increases. 

Major trail to major trail connections have also been at the top of the list in terms of organization-wide projects. An effort to connect cities and towns to trails and parks has led the people of Polk County outdoors and created valuable connections for trail users to their environment and surrounding communities. Trail connections along the Chichaqua Valley Trail, Gay Lea Wilson Trail and Great Western Trail are now complete. Anticipated completion of the Mark C. Ackelson Trail will wrap up all major trail improvements in the works. Though these immediate major trail enhancements are coming to a close, the Conservation Board continues to acquire land to complete the 110-mile Central Iowa Trail Loop and continues to search out new areas in Polk County to attain, develop and protect. 

The Future

Several initiatives lie at the forefront of goal planning within PCC.These initiatives include provision and expansion in the following areas: 

environmental education
watershed management (and associated water quality issues)
public awareness
outdoor recreation
natural areas 

Throughout the past decade, PCCB has devoted increasingly greater resources toward environmental education for Polk County residents.The environmental education staff presents conservation programs to more than 22,000 school children annually and offers more than 300 outdoor recreational programs to the public. On the horizon lies the Jester Park Nature Center, a facility that will more effectively accommodate such a vast array of participants, events and programs provided by PCC. 

This center will also serve as a premier regional conservation hub that will focus on the the aforementioned initiatives where people of all ages can interact with the natural environment through education and recreation. More than half of the funds needed to make this project a success have been secured. PCWLL bond dollars have been leveraged with outside donations from various entities. Individual, family, corporate and foundation donations are incredibly significant and valued contributions that will lead the way in this final phase of fundraising in 2016 as we bring this project from the drawing board to reality.


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