Mississippi River volunteers
Lend a Hand
A river group highlighted in each issue of Big River Magazine
Friends volunteer to harvest prairie seed (top), repair the trails that cross the 1,380-acre park (center), and run nature programs for kids. (Photos courtesy of Mines of Spain State Recreation Area)
Friends of the Mines of Spain
This state recreation area near Dubuque is full of woods, prairie and nature trails.
The Friends of the Mines of Spain formed in 1997 to support this popular riverside state recreation area just south of Dubuque, Iowa. Volunteers were already involved in many activities. Forming a “friends” group allowed them to organize and take on bigger projects.
The park encompasses 1,380 acres of wooded and prairie land and the E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center, as well as Julien Dubuque’s Monument, which is a National Historic Landmark.
The Mines of Spain is a relatively undeveloped park, with lots of wild wooded lands, prairies and nature trails. More than 300,000 people a year visit the park, which is served by only two full-time paid staff people. The E.B. Lyons Nature Center is a very busy place that could not function as it does without volunteers.
The Friends group helps to restore the prairie, run nature programs and secure donations for the park. Members come out in the winter to open the nature center, and they staff it at all times of the year, freeing paid staff for other activities. Members have raised funds to purchase a snowmobile and trail-groomer for cross-country skiers, build more latrines and buy a pull-behind combine for prairie restoration. They produced a brochure encouraging membership in the group and now are creating a video for the same purpose.
The Friends is a family-focused group. Kids are encouraged to become members and to volunteer. The animal adoption program is especially popular, with kids signing up to “adopt” a snake, salamander or turtle, which means they regularly show up to clean cages and feed the animals.
“This is the first real volunteer activity I’ve enjoyed that my family does, too,” said board president Doug Olk, M.D.
The Board is currently working to raise $1.2 million to expand the E.B. Lyons Nature Center, because there’s not enough room for the number of people who regularly attend programs, and there’s not enough room to expand the programs themselves.
Plans include a large theater-presentation space that will seat 100 people, expanded exhibit space, a reference room for research materials and a fully-appointed laboratory space on the lower level.
“My hope is that it will be just like a high school biology lab,” said Wayne Buchholz, park manager. “Then we can have people do pond studies and come back to look through microscopes. We can have schools come out.”
This ambitious plan has been in the wings for a while. The big push starts this fall.
“This is really our first big project,” said Olk. “It’s been a real learning process. We’re all volunteers here, so it’s taken some time to get it going. It takes more time than if we were paid to do it or if we were professional fundraisers. But I think we have our ducks in a row.”
Board and Members
The Friends of the Mines of Spain currently has about 150 members and 15 board members. They publish a newsletter.
Membership is just $9.00 a year for families, $5.00 for adults, $2.00 for students.
Published in Big River Magazine, September 2005.