Dubuque County Conservation open house

Dubuque County Conservation Board Executive Director Brian Preston (left) speaks to Scott Cornwell, of Dubuque, at the Dubuque County Conservation booth at the Millwork Night Market on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.

About 500 people have provided public input during the Dubuque County Conservation Board’s effort to create the department’s first long-term strategic plan.

While the public input phase will continue through mid-December, consultants and county officials say several key themes are emerging. But to Ryan Peterson, principal and landscape architect at RDG Planning & Design, the enthusiastic response is incredibly promising.

“I’m extremely pleased with having 500 people both in person and online take the time to do the survey,” he said. “It takes 15 to 20 minutes. And in this day and age, that’s not a small ask. That tells me there’s a significant amount of interest in what Dubuque County offers.”

Brian Preston, the conservation board’s executive director, said this is the first time the department has invested in a holistic evaluation of local assets and their potential.

“It’s kind of groundbreaking for our department,” he said. “I’m really excited about it. It actually is going to make budgeting a whole lot easier, looking at some of the priorities and projects that people have emphasized.”

Early findings include:

  • People want more trails.

“When we ask people to prioritize what their No. 1 thing is that we should focus on, people overwhelmingly talked about and support making trails more accessible in terms of the quantity of trails in our county,” Peterson said.

  • Investments should be made in park infrastructure.

“That might be updating facilities,” Peterson said. “That could include park pavilions. That might include bridge infrastructure. That might include ways to make things a little bit easier to use.”

  • Local residents also care about protecting natural resources in Dubuque County.

“The key word was habitat preservation and restoration,” Peterson said. “That would be restoring woodlands that might be degraded or restoring habitats for plants, animals. ... That goes hand-in-hand with water quality because oftentimes, the natural habitat does the best job.”

  • Project leaders also are gathering feedback about specific plans for each park. For example, residents view Swiss Valley Nature Center as “the gateway to the outdoors,”
  • Peterson said.

“We (will) take that (input), and we are going to visit each of the park plans,” he said. “What happens at Swiss Valley? What happens at Whitewater Canyon?”

Peterson said the plan, which likely will be finalized and adopted in April, lays out a 20- to 25-year “vision” for Dubuque County conservation efforts.

“It’s going to take some time to fulfill this vision,” he said.

That’s why public input is so essential, Preston said.

“I think it’s really important to get the public engagement to get the direction that our constituents want,” he said.

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