Waubonsie working to stay open, available for get aways

Kirt Manion

With public gatherings being discouraged as a result of coronavirus, residents are navigating a world where they can’t go to their favorite restaurants or coffee shops. In response, residents may be seeking the great outdoors as an escape from a life of quarantine.

Thankfully, nearby Waubonsie State Park seems to be the perfect spot to get away.

Waubonsie’s Matt Moles said he loves to hear about people wanting to enjoy outdoor activities, but says the idea of promoting the park while also being mindful of coronavirus protocols isn’t easy.

“We are kind of in a tough spot on that,” said Moles. “We don’t want to over-promote people to go to the same places.”

At this point, Moles said the focus for the park is just on keeping the gates open so that people have an outlet. That’s not easy. The seasonal help for the park, Moles said, has yet to come on board for the summer months and the staff at the park is  working really hard to make sure public restrooms, including outhouses, get cleaned several times per day. Supply levels for such cleanings are also stressed by the new protocols.

Moles said he has seen increased usage of the park, so the public is definitely seeing value in visits there. Moles said he has noticed more campers and hikers than in past years at the same time.

“We are definitely encouraged that people to get outside, get fresh air and take a hike,” Moles said. “It’s kind of uplifting to see people seeking the outdoors.”

As far as programming goes, the park has had to cancel events including a chance for residents to interact with the artist in residence at the park. Moles said the park is going to try to engage people online and that a vote is being taken to get public input for the permanent display of a piece of art by what would have been the artist in residence, Terri Parish McGaffin. For more information on the park, go to the Friends of Waubonsie Facebook page.

A letter from the park to patrons is included below.

Dear Iowa State Parks Visitors,

We greatly appreciate your support and trust. In accordance with CDC (Center for Disease Control) guidelines and state recommendations pertaining to COVID-19, we want to  share with you important information about Iowa state parks.

At this point, Iowa State Parks are open. Our highest priority is the health and well-being of our visitors, volunteers and employees. During this time, we remain diligent in taking steps to make your visit as safe and enjoyable as possible.

Here’s how you can help:

According to State of Iowa recommendations, limit your group to less than 10 people when visiting a state park.

If you have been sick in the last two weeks, please stay at home for your health and the safety of others.

Avoid popular areas where people may congregate, and also avoid larger groups in general. Areas to avoid may include scenic overlooks, buildings, playgrounds, etc.

Please maintain distance between you and other park visitors according to guidelines and recommendations by health officials. Please take into consideration the health of others when spending time outdoors.  

Pack extra soap or hand sanitizer. Please be aware that bathrooms and showers are closed seasonally every year through April 15. Due to increased use or at remote locations, soap or sanitizer may not be available.  

Additional information on best practices for keeping you and your family safe can be found online at the CDC website.

Here’s what we are doing:

If you feel cancelling your stay is the safest choice, we will waive cancellation fees for visits (cabins, campsites, lodges) with arrival dates through April 30. To cancel without fees, contact the Customer Service Call Center at (877) 427-2757. If you have a lodge or cabin reservation involving groups of 10 or more, we will be contacting you to cancel your reservation. Additionally, the DNR is working to temporarily limit reservations at lodges and cabins to groups of less than 10, so please be aware of changes that may be coming if you are making plans for the spring.

We are implementing additional cleaning procedures, according to CDC guidelines, such as more stringent and frequent cleaning of cabins and other public areas.

We are postponing programs and events at all state parks through April 30. This will help keep visitors safe, and we will reassess this policy in mid-April. We are also temporarily closing any visitor centers or museums managed by state parks.

We are monitoring the situation. We promise to remain diligent and intentional in protecting you and making your visit a great experience. As conditions change, so may our policies on park visitation and overnight stays. We will keep you informed of any changes moving forward.

Thank you for your patience and flexibility. We appreciate your support of Iowa state parks as we all work together to keep each other safe.