Listen to our full interview with Chelsea Ewen, Naturalist for the Mitchell County Conservation Board here:
Camping Mitchell County Iowa
Camp Iowa: We’re talking with Chelsea Ewen today. She is a naturalist for the Mitchell County Conservation Board. How’s it going today, Chelsea?
Chelsea: Pretty good. How’s it going with you guys?
Camp Iowa: Good, real good. Let’s talk a little bit about camping in that area. There are six campgrounds there. What are the names of those campgrounds?
Chelsea: Starting just across from our nature center here is Cedar Bridge Park, and that’s located just west of Osage on Highway 9. Then we have Halvorson Park up in St. Ansgar. We have Otranto Park in Otranto. We have Riverside Park in Stacyville. We have Pioneer Park just east and a little bit north of Osage. I’m trying to think if that’s all six of them. [laughs] Seems like I’m missing one.
Camp Iowa: I think you got it.
Chelsea: I got all six?
Camp Iowa: I think so. How long have these parks been around?
Chelsea: Some of them are really quite old. Pioneer Park would be our oldest park, and that actually started as a private, local campground in the 1920s and ’30s, and then it was taken over by the state DNR, and then just recently within this last year relinquished back to the county, and it’s now a county park again. But some of them are also very recent, like Cedar Bridge has been within the last couple of years. It’s a new park.
Camp Iowa: What are the most popular activities in the area?
Chelsea: Five of our six campgrounds are located along our rivers, and so pretty much any boating, fishing, water activities, is probably the most popular activities around in our parks. It could be jet skiing, swimming, anything you could do related to water. We also have, in Cedar Bridge Park, it’s our only equestrian park, so there is a trail from here up to the next town in Mitchell that has horses allowed on it. That’s a pretty popular park as well.
Camp Iowa: Are there any places in the area then where you could sign up to do some horse riding if you didn’t own a horse?
Chelsea: We actually don’t have any of those kind of facilities around here, so it’s mostly private citizens that have their horses and want to go trail riding that come to those parks.
Camp Iowa: Sure. How about group sites? Do some of the campgrounds have some larger group sites?
Chelsea: Yeah. I believe only Cedar Bridge and Pioneer are really the only two that have designated sites, and even then, if you have a camper and want to plug into electricity, those are really the only restrictions. You can kind of camp wherever you want. So if you have a big group of people that want to camp, all you need to do is make sure everybody registered, and you can set up in your own little area as you like.
Camp Iowa: Which campground would have the most secluded sites, or are they all pretty close together?
Chelsea: The most secluded park we have is Pioneer Park, and that’s a very small campground. We usually don’t have a lot of campers there, which makes it the nice getaway park for camping. Otherwise, that would probably be the most secluded. The other ones, depending on the weekend, you can kind of get a little bit more of a private area, but they’re pretty open throughout the park because of that group setting.
Camp Iowa: If you could spend just one hour in any of the six parks, how would you spend your time? What activity would you do?
Chelsea: Being a naturalist, pretty much anything in the natural world fascinates me, so it could be anything from bird watching to mushroom hunting to picking berries. Wild edibles is a passion of mine personally, and so figuring out what plants grow where and then which ones maybe would be edible for collection later would be something that I would do.
I’m also learning a lot about the history of the parks, so kind of figuring out the original landscape. Like one of our parks has a current hydroelectric dam building, and so it does produce electricity for the local town. Learning about the dam and stuff is kind of interesting to me, the historical side of it as well.
Camp Iowa: Sure, cool. Last question for you: if you could spend just one night camping in any of the six parks, which park would you pick and which particular campsite would you pick and why?
Chelsea: Ooh, if I could spend a night, let’s see. I like Pioneer Park, again, because it’s the most secluded. Pretty much any site there would be good. But if I was camping with friends or family, our most popular parks are usually either Halvorson or Interstate Park at Mitchell, so either one of those I think. They’re not really numbered; it’s just the electric sites that are numbered. So any place that’s underneath a nice shade tree would be where I would pick. And there are quite a few options for those.
Camp Iowa: That’s some great insider info for our listeners. All right, thanks for taking time to talk to us this morning, Chelsea. Much appreciated.
Chelsea: Thank you.