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It was 11 years ago that Ringgold county would make a decision that would literally change the landscape of the county as we knew it.
Ringgold County Conservation was faced with the retirement of long-time director, Rick Hawkins, after 30 years of service.
After interviewing multiple candidates, the County Conservation Board hired Kate Zimmerman, a graduate of Guthrie Center High School and Upper Iowa University. Zimmerman was a go-getter from the beginning, achieving her Bachelor of Science degree in Conservation Management and Biology after only three years.
Before coming to Ringgold County, Zimmerman worked for Bremer County Conservation as a naturalist. A naturalist is responsible for the environmental educational programming, a skill she utilizes every year with the environmental educational programs she has brought to Ringgold County.
“I have truly enjoyed building our program and developing our areas to offer premier services to the communities of Ringgold County. The Conservation Board and I have worked tirelessly to make Ringgold County Conservation one of the leading conservation departments in the State of Iowa,” said Director Zimmerman. “This helps build economic development and tourism in a sometimes neglected part of the state. We want to help grow our community and make Ringgold County a great place to live, work and play while improving quality of life, health and wellness.”
Fast forward to now and Zimmerman has reached a big milestone in her career. She has brought over $1,020,000 into the county through various fundraisers, grants and gracious donations from many area community members.
The one-million dollars has helped shape the county with two major capital improvement projects including the Dragoon Trace Nature Center and the Liberty Lake Development Project currently in progress, along with many improvements to all of the nine areas that Ringgold County Conservation manages.
The Dragoon Trace Nature Center was a large undertaking, but thanks to grants and donations, it only took a short five years from start to completion. It now hosts many environmental educational programs throughout the year, including Nature Tots, a program that is aimed at a younger audience, numerous school field trips both in an out of the county, O.W.L.S which stands for Older Wiser Livelier Seniors which is aimed at the older crowd, School of the Wild, as well as events such as the Haunted Hike held every October and the Holiday Lights in the Park event that sees people from all around the surrounding area come enjoy the Nature Center and Poe Hollow Park turned into a Winter Wonderland.
Zimmerman has also transformed the parks with help from her seasonal employees every summer.This summer, the department added brand-new payment and information kiosks at both Poe Hollow Park and Fife’s Grove Park in the Mount Ayr area.
“Being the only Full-Time Employee, Ringgold County Conservation relies heavily on our seasonal staff to help us through the busy summer season,” said Director Zimmerman. “Each year our seasonal staff goes above and beyond to help us make sure our parks, trails, programming and wildlife areas the best in the state.”
Diagonal has also seen improvements from the department under Zimmerman’s leadership.
Kokesh Park received a brand-new playground, new 50-amp electrical units, as well as a bathroom.
The Ringgold Trailway saw the trail repaved for the multitude of users it sees daily, while the caboose at the entrance was fully renovated to greet visitors upon their arrival on the west entrance of the two-mile trail.
Boone Woods, in southern Ringgold county, saw increased trail mileage as well as having those trails mapped and an upgraded parking lot.
Huff Recreational Area in the eastern part of the county received $20,000 to increase monarch butterfly pollinators in its expansive native prairie.
The most recent addition to Ringgold County Conservation was the acquisition of Liberty Lake from the City of Mount Ayr.
The Liberty Lake Project has seen a nine-hole disc golf course added to the east side of the park, placement of shoreline armoring and fish habitat, while cabins are currently being constructed on the west side, while a full campground is projected to be completed within the next year. New docks were installed in 2020 around the lake, replacing the old wooden docks that were showing signs of wear and tear. One of the docks, placed near the existing boat ramp, includes a kayak launcher to make the lake more accessible to kayaks and canoes.
“I was still reeling from the completion and success of the Dragoon Trace Nature Center when we dove straight into the Liberty Lake project. The fact that we are on Phase 3 already truly points to the overwhelming community support we have and their generous donations to help us match grants to keep moving these projects forward,” said Director Zimmerman. “The City of Mount Ayr has also been an incredible partner in the Liberty Lake project, from the donation of the area, the continued snow removal on the roads and the donation of funding towards match grants. The Mount Ayr Community School and Dustin Larsen constructing our 3 primitive cabins is another example of the unbelievable support for the Conservation Department. None of these things would be possible without each and every person that has donated their time and funding to these projects. “
As the only full-time employee, Zimmerman makes sure that Ringgold county has all the advantages of a larger county, taking on the duties of a large scale department by providing grant writing, leading capital campaign projects, environmental education programming, managing fundraisers, setting up a new online reservation system, continued habitat restoration, improved outdoor recreation opportunities and more.
“I am so humbled by the continued support for both myself and the Conservation Department. I have remained in Ringgold County for the past decade because of this community, their kind words of encouragement and steadfast support, along with the remarkable individuals on the Conservation Board – Randy Bishop, Dale Walkup, Doug Frost, Jim Norris and Susie Catanzareti.” said Director Zimmerman.