Tama Co. Conservation appoints new director

News & notes from Nov. monthly meeting

Tama County’s new director of conservation Curtis Behrens pictured on Wednesday, Nov. 1, at Otter Creek Lake & Park Nature Center. Behrens – previously with Jones County Conservation and of no relation to Tama County Sanitarian Chris Behrens – began in his new role with the county this past Monday. PHOTO BY SOREN M. PETERSON

OTTER CREEK LAKE & PARK – Iowa State graduate and former Jones County Conservation natural resource manager Curtis Behrens has been hired as the new director of Tama County Conservation.

The announcement was made during November’s meeting of the Board of Conservation which took place last week Wednesday, Nov. 1 at Otter Creek Lake & Park Nature Center.

Behrens takes over from former director Stephen Mayne of Chelsea. Mayne’s tenure, which began in March of 2021, is currently being investigated by both the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Iowa Auditor of State’s office, according to board chair John Keenan.

Since Mayne’s departure, the board has been in search of its fourth director in as many years. Prior to Mayne’s appointment, Logan Roberts held the position. Roberts herself was hired in 2019 following longtime director Bob Etzel’s retirement.

A four-member team composed of Keenan, Tama County HR Administrator Tammy Wise, Tama County Auditor Laura Kopsa, and Conservation board member Jim Allen led the most recent interview process; formal interviews began early last month.

Behrens – no relation to Tama County Sanitarian Chris Behrens – began in his new role this past Monday, Nov. 6. He most recently worked for Jones County Conservation as a natural resource manager. Prior to Jones County, he was the Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Sumner.

A profile of Behrens will feature in future issues of the three Tama-Grundy newspapers.

Muskrat trapping

Muskrats, a native Iowa species, have become a nuisance issue at Otter Creek Lake & Park in just the past month, conservation staff reported during the November meeting.

They have been digging burrows near the newly rebuilt dam, Tama Co. naturalist Raina Genaw told Tama-Grundy Publishing in a follow-up email, which can lead to leakage, erosion, and even bank collapse in extreme cases.

The trapping of muskrats in the park has subsequently been opened to the public. Those interested in trapping need to contact Park Officer Riley Conrad by calling the office at 641-484-5314, or by calling his cell at 641-481-2061.

Other business

As part of the November maintenance report, conservation staff told the board they recently found half a dozen dead white-tailed deer in Otter Creek Park near water sources. Two of the deceased deer’s heads were sent to the Iowa DNR for testing for likely Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD), cases of which have spiked in Iowa this year due to the drought.

Under the environmental report, Genaw stated that her Bird Friendly Iowa resolution had been approved and signed by the Tama County Board of Supervisors.

Under the administrative report, park technician/ranger Dustin Horne said the annual Fall Festival which took place at Otter Creek on Sunday, October 8, welcomed 550 attendees for a roughly $600 profit.

As part of the lake restoration update, it was reported the county had finally been reimbursed for its project engineering fees — effectively wrapping up the years-long project’s various loose ends.

The board approved a quote from Boland Recreation out of Marshalltown for playground equipment purchases for both Otter Creek Lake & Park and T. F. Clark Park.

Three different nature center rental agreement options addressing the consumption of alcohol were presented to the board by Horne and Genaw. Currently no alcohol is allowed at the nature center. The board plans to take action on the policy during the December meeting.

The board discussed purchasing a skid loader which was part of last fiscal year’s budget. No action was taken.

Genaw informed the board she would like to apply for grants to install new interpretive trail signage in the parks.

It was reported that both a replacement flag pole and two memorial benches – including one donated by past board member Allan Atchison – were recently reinstalled at Otter Creek Lake & Park.

Following the meeting, Conservation staff posted on Facebook that both the shower house and water hydrants at Otter Creek Lake & Park campground were shut off for the season on Nov. 3. The hydrants at T. F. Clark Park were also shut off that same day.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, December 6, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the nature center.