While the Mississippi Eco Tourism Center is still a work in progress, several portions of the building are ready for use and some have already been used.
The Clinton County Conservation Board discussed progress on the center at a meeting on Tuesday in the community hall at the center.
The community hall, a space to be rented out for community groups, will be used for the Iowa River Road Stakeholder meetings at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. today and already has several groups scheduled for next week.
The camp store was recently decorated with replica fish and will open on Friday morning. Visitors will be able to rent equipment like canoes and kayaks at the store.
“We’ve been busy moving things in to the center and preparing the rooms for use,” Environmental Education Coordinator Mark Roberts said.
The 8,000-gallon aquarium was installed in March and is still being hooked up to plumbing. Several tests must be run to ensure the aquarium does not leak and is safe for fish. Native fish from the Mississippi River will fill the aquarium once it is ready for aquatic life. Aquascaping and having the correct biological setting for the fish is extremely important, according to Roberts. This requires time as bacteria needs to be built up in the filter. The fish are expected to inhabit the tank by Memorial Day or sometime in June. It is uncertain when the nature gallery will be up and running, as the board does not currently have the funding for the displays.
The tourism center is expected to provide a unique attraction to the Clinton area, with the only site like it being the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque. While the museum is much larger than the Eco Center, the center will offer a unique perspective.
“Here we can get people really interested in the river, by giving them hands-on experiences with plenty activities on the river,” Roberts said. “The center is true to what’s in our own backyard. It’s a great start to your Mississippi River experience.”
With the record high weather in March, the conservation board opened campgrounds and parks much earlier than usual. Campgrounds were ready as early as March, but that was two to three weeks after many people had already called the board inquiring about the campgrounds. Water has now been turned on in all the parks.
“People were calling and asking about the campgrounds really early,” Roberts said. “It really put us in fast-forward.”
The board also announced it has hired a new full-time naturalist to help out with their busy schedule, especially as traffic increases with the new center. Jill Schmidt from Eagle River, Wis., will be joining the staff. Schmidt will be returning to Iowa, as she is originally from Manchester.
She will join the staff of two other naturalists in mid-May.