Last month I wrote about how much has happened at Des Moines County Conservation in the last five years and how much I look forward to the next five as we work on assembling our new strategic plan. Today I want to share a little background on our preparations for that planning process.

Earlier in the summer we assembled a rather lengthy public survey in an effort to get as much public feedback as we could regarding what we should focus on going into the future. We posted the survey several places online. Most of the staff got together in the office one day and stuffed and stamped more than 1,000 envelopes containing hard copy surveys which were then mailed to a randomly selected, statistically significant list of Des Moines County residents. We also handed out surveys in our parks and at our offices.

In the end, we got about 400 total responses back, which is a pretty good response rate. For perspective, Linn County, which has almost six times the population of our county, conducted a similar survey effort in 2014 and received less than 300 responses.

So what did you tell us? Here are some of the results.

Your top five favorite outdoor recreation activities, in order of enjoyment, were Hiking/Walking, Fishing, Driving/Sight-Seeing, Bicycling, and Nature Photography/Watching.

We asked you to list three activities you have not done, but would like to try. The top five in that category were Canoeing/Kayaking, Cabin Camping, Horseback Riding, Geocaching, and Riding All-Terrain Vehicles.

The next question was: “When families or friends from out of the county come to visit you in Des Moines County, what activities do they do and/or what places do they visit?” We listed a bunch of options and asked you to check all that applied.

The top five visitor activities in Des Moines County, in order, were: Restaurants; Parks/Campgrounds/Cabins; Shopping Areas; Historic Sites; and Downtown District.

This one came as a bit of a surprise to me. That Parks/Campgrounds/Cabins came in second only to restaurants as the most popular visitor activity indicates county parks are more of a visitor attraction that we thought.

In the next section we listed all our parks and asked whether you were aware of their existence and if so, how often you visit them. From that we learned we could do a much better job at marketing some of our less-known areas (more on marketing shortly).

Then we asked a couple questions about park development and improvement. Improved-surface biking/walking trails were the most requested amenity to add to the county park system. Cabins and improved campgrounds (full hook-up sites and shower houses) were the most requested improvements to existing parks.

We then asked some questions about our environmental education programs. While you seem pretty happy with what we already offer (which is mostly for kids), it appears we could do a much better job at advertising our programs. There’s also quite a bit of demand for programs and activities for adults.

On the subject of marketing, we asked where you get your information regarding our programs and activities. Your top five sources, in order, were: Word of Mouth; Local Newspapers; Facebook; Radio; and Website (www.dmcconservation.com). Based on the comments, it appears that there’s a fair bit of demand for an e-newsletter also.

In the next section we asked you to place a high, medium, or low priority on each item in a list of potential activities or projects. The top five projects, in order of average rank were: Protect natural areas from invasive species; Acquire and protect more natural areas with sensitive characteristics such as geology, water quality, or rare/unique species; Establish a greenbelt by protecting land along Flint Creek; Provide improved amenities such as shower houses and or full/hook-up campsites at existing campgrounds; Provide more in-park rental cabins.

We then asked if you would support the allocation of additional tax dollars to fund the items you indicated should be high priority. More than half, 53 percent, checked yes and an additional 33 percent said Maybe/Uncertain. Only 14 percent checked no.

We asked if you’d be willing to make a tax-deductible donation to those high priority projects and only 21 percent said no.

To me, these last two responses are proof, once again, of just how much this community supports and is willing to invest in parks and natural resources in Des Moines County. As I’ve written repeatedly before, it’s that support that has gotten us to where we are today and it’s that support that will make Des Moines County’s parks and natural resources even better in the future.

You’ve given us our mission. Now it’s up to us to deliver. We have your support. Together, we’re going to create some awesome outdoor experiences in the coming years.

The survey says so.

Chris Lee is executive director of Des Moines County Conservation. Follow his blog at OutdoorExecutiveDad.blogspot.com. His column appears in Currents the fourth Friday of each month.