DNR advises limits on Fort Defiance trails
Is it possible to love a park to death?
That’s the question that was posed, answered, and posed and answered again in a meeting Tuesday night between the Friends of Fort Defiance and Iowa Department of Natural Resource officials at the park lodge. Mark Edwards, DNR trails coordinator, along with DNR District Supervisor Frank Rickerl and Ranger Steve Reighard, met with Friends members to discuss a new trail the group has proposed for the west side of the park.
The trail would have replaced another that encroached on Estherville Golf Course property by starting at the beginning of the old trail then using low-gradient switchbacks to reach the bottom of School Section Creek valley. Gary Phillips, former Friends president who has done a massive amount of work in the park along with his environmental studies students at Iowa Lakes Community College, summed up the DNR’s assessment of the proposed trail after having walked the proposed site with Edwards, Rickerl and Reighard. “It’s possibly feasible but not sustainable,” Phillips said.
Edwards, the “go-to” man for trails issues on DNR land, said he had considered a single-track, hiking-only trail but that would have required maintenance. He had concerns that the trail would be used for more than hiking. While acknowledging pressure from other parks to have hiking-only trails, Edwards said the reality would be that people would try to use the trail for other purposes.
“In no sense could you have bikes or horses,” Edwards said. “We would never put a horse trail in there. It’s out of the question.”
Edwards pointed to the fact that he has just $125,000 in his budget for trails – for all of the DNR’s parks throughout the entire state.
Reighard said hikers would be able to use the new interpretive trail that starts at the west parking lot. He said trail users could also go through the valley to the west end of the park and loop back.
“The objective is not to use every inch of the park,” Edwards explained.
Friends member Judy Grethen asked if users would then be left with existing trails to use.
Edwards said he would like to preserve as many natural areas as possible in the park. “We aren’t going to put any new trails in until we address the problems that we have,” Edwards said.
When Friends member Roger Grethen asked what could be done to improve existing trails, Reighard said the east trail needed work. He said the Friends would be free to work on the trail if they followed guidelines that he had provided. He also noted erosion-control improvements that might be made on the new Spring Creek trail that the group has worked on over the past two years.
Edwards suggested that a crew might be available in the fall for trail work. He noted work also needed to be done on one of the bridges over School Section Creek.
“That’s what I would try to focus on is fix what’s here the best you can,” Edwards said. He further suggested that public use easements might be obtained around the park.