Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
Kalona prepares for over-90-acre recreation area
KALONA — A large wildlife area near Kalona’s Southtown subdivision is slated for several projects as it becomes a recreational space.
Municipal and county officials said they planned to develop part of the land as a "naturescape,“ which City Administrator Ryan Schlabaugh described as a mix of natural features and playground equipment. Other plans for the almost 95-acre area include a dog park, paved trail, disc golf course, splash pad and a separate, ADA-compliant playground among other features.
“It’s a lot of different amenities being proposed out there that fit that landscape,” he said.
Schlabaugh said the area, which includes a preexisting trail, was already open to the public, but that many amenities would have to wait for construction, or at least the official transfer of ownership to the city, expected around March 20.
Maintaining the land’s natural qualities was a priority for the project plan. Schlabaugh said the local wildlife had its own appeal.
“A lot of that, it’s woodland, so we don’t really need to do anything other than not screw it up,” he said. “It’s wonderful in its current state, the pond’s beautiful, everything around it … it kind of sells itself.”
In any case, it’s an ambitious undertaking for the city of 2,600. Preliminary costs presented at a meeting on Monday came in around $3.1 million, with construction time around 14 months once that money is in-hand.
Schlabaugh said the city could largely pay for the work with local-option sales tax after that revenue stream finishes paying off a library-related debt in 2024. Other avenues involve various grant opportunities, such as from the Washington County Riverboat Foundation.
The development is not expected to trade off with improvements to the already-existing city park in Kalona, which were also discussed Monday night.
“We’re trying to be balanced in a park that’s been very, very successful just off of Highway 22,” Schlabaugh said. “The newer amenities that we’ll see, that we’ll bring on board in a little bit different location, they’d be location-appropriate for the uses that we’re putting there.”
Once under city ownership, Washington County’s conservation staff will manage the land.
Washington County Conservation Director Zach Rozmus said the department was involved in the planning process. He said he was confident the new property would be manageable.
“We want to make sure we’re not spreading ourselves too thin … so we’ve been an intricate part,” he said. “It feels like we’re always having meetings about planning design. There also has been a committee put together that involves our board, the city council, some private individuals … that have really tried to be the steering committee.”
The area’s native wildlife will be left mostly intact after the development, according to project plans.
While the county department considers wildlife conservation an end in itself, Rozmus said the area’s ecosystem was rare for the county.
“The oaks and hickories that are components of this property, you know, we don’t see the regeneration rates on oaks and hickories the same as we once did,” he said. “This has a substantial stand, just off the trailhead, of old white oaks and old hickories that are all in 100 years plus.
“That is something that absolutely deserves to be protected because it’s unique to the north half of this county where you don’t see those old wood lots anymore. Whether it be development infringing on those environments or logging … the timber is some of the most pristine overlooking the English River.”
With an ownership transfer on the horizon and city on the horizon and plans coming to fruition, Rozmus said he was excited about the area.
“The word that I keep coming back to is, ‘Opportunity,’” he said. “Not very often does the community have an opportunity like this essentially put on their plate.”