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The persistent toad

CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS — A male American Toad calls for its mate in the spring months of April and May. They produce a high trill that can last up to 30 seconds.

A few weeks ago, while working in my office at the Conservation Center at the Grimes Farm, I was serenaded by an American toad who decided to reside in the water feature outside my window.

For days, he sat and sang and sang his heart out. We chuckled about his persistence and the fact that the park was all flooded and that we could hear hundreds of toads singing down at the boardwalk 100 feet away. As male toads sing and females do not, we debated on going and finding him a female toad to help in his hunt for a mate. However, we decided that maybe it was best if he didn’t contribute to the gene pool.

Day after day, he sang, and there was no sign of another toad in the area. What was comical at first became sad after a while. Then, one day, long after I had given up hope for him to find a mate, there in his pool were not one but two female toads. I will not go into details, but today, when I look out at the pond, I see hundreds of little black toad tadpoles swimming around.

When Garry asked me to write a guest article for the paper, I wasn’t sure what to write about. However, on the same day, I discovered the offspring of this one persistent toad, and he inspired me.

Working in the conservation field requires persistence, and over the last year, I have watched several projects succeed with perseverance – for example, Green Castle Campground. Looking back through my files, I find the first public meeting discussing a design for the campground at Green Castle took place over ten years ago on April 3, 2013. Over the years, the campground design has changed. Instead of one large project, the project has now been broken into three phases. We have added amenities, like accessible campsites and playgrounds, making it welcoming for all who want to spend time in the great outdoors. The original campground was estimated to cost 2.2 million. Phase one, or one-third of the project, has a price tag of 1.3 million.

The Friends of Marshall County Conservation host the Live and Local Concert series at the Grimes Farm Conservation Center during summer. The next free concert is Bob Dorr on June 20 from 6 to 8 p.m.

Large projects like this do not happen overnight; most of the time, funding doesn’t just magically fall into our lap. However, Green Castle would still be a dream without ARPA, the American Rescue Plan Act. ARPA funds from the county and state provided us with most of the funds needed to begin construction. Local donations and grants from the Community Foundation, Lenox, Friends of Marshall County Conservation, and many private donors helped us to reach our final fundraising goal.

To date, local contractor Robin Weidner has installed the septic system and main water supply, graded the camping area, and is prepping the area for the six-stall family-style shower house, which is scheduled to arrive in mid-July. It is amazing that this initial campground phase, planned over 10 years ago, will be completed this fall. And without much persistence, it may never have happened in the first place!

Another place I see perseverance is at Grammer Grove. Previous generations of conservationists planted honeysuckles to reduce soil loss and provide habitat for wildlife. Little did they know they were introducing one of the most aggressive invasive species in Iowa’s timbers. Non-native honeysuckle prevents the regeneration of trees and plants, leaving many Iowa forests with a wall of honeysuckle plants and little more.

Several years ago, volunteers began the time-consuming and endless task of removing Honeysuckle from Grammer Grove woodlands. Stem by stem, branch by branch, and trunk by trunk, over 15 acres have had Honeysuckle removed. What seemed like an impossible task at one time has been proven doable. All thanks to a couple of very persistent conservation volunteers.

In recent news, Hardin County Trails and Trails Inc., two groups of dedicated volunteers from Hardin and Marshall County, have been pursuing funds to finalize building the Iowa River’s Edge Trail, a 32-mile bike trail from Marshalltown to Steamboat Rock. When discussion began on this rail-to-trail project, many believed finishing the trail would be a long trudge and could take decades to build.

After much hard work, promotion, and perseverance, the trail groups are pursuing the final funding for this project, a federal grant for 12 million dollars. If they receive this final grant, all funds will be secured for the trail paving and bridge crossings. The slow trudge has become a sprint many could have only dreamed of, and why? Because the volunteers and community members who supported this project were persistent.

Another amazing group of volunteers steadfastly supporting conservation and recreation in Marshall County is the Friends of Marshall County Conservation. This organization began seven years ago, and thanks to the Ann C. Keyser Trust, it has provided the public with free live concerts and local food trucks for the last five years.

What started with 50 people at a concert has grown to 500, bringing people to the Grimes Farm and connecting them with nature. (Shameless promotion – mark your calendar for June 20 at 6:00 p.m. as Bob Dorr returns to the Grimes Farm with local food trucks Clare’s Tenderloins, Comal Kaxi, and Lillie Mae).

The Friends of Marshall County Conservation are also tireless at pursuing funds to assist with projects throughout Marshall County Conservation areas. Today, their perseverance has raised over $75,000 to support a wide range of projects, including constructing the Timmons Grove Shower House, acquiring Mann Wetlands, replacing the light at Grimes Farm Shelter, and many more.

The friends are also doggedly pursuing grants and donations to pay for an accessible playground at the Green Castle Campground — currently, they have raised 75% of their goal of $150,000. I know that Friends will not give up until they have reached their goals. Check out the Friends of Marshall County Facebook page or website to learn more about this group or the Live and Local Concert. Or join them for their annual meeting and potluck, which will take place at the Grimes Farm on June 27 at 6:00 p.m.

Over 10 years ago, an overwhelming majority of Iowan voters (63%) voted to create The Natural Resource and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. We often call this IWILL, as in Iowa Water and Land Legacy. This would be a permanently and continuously protected fund that supports improving water quality, protecting soil, enhancing wildlife habitat, and increasing outdoor recreation. This trust will be funded when there is a sales tax increase, and 3/8 of a cent will automatically go into the trust to be divided among conservation stakeholders, including IDALS, IDNR, and County Conservations.

Even more amazingly, 90% of lawmakers in two consecutive general assemblies voted in favor of IWILL. I cannot think of a single thing we humans, nor our elected lawmakers can get that kind of consensus on. When I heard that toad singing, IWILL was the first thing I thought about. His incessant singing, which I initially mistook for his hopeless blind faith, was really what the author James Clear says is “the most useful form of patience: persistence.” He states, “Persistence implies keeping your head down and continuing to work when things take longer than you expect.” We in the conservation field will continue to sing the IWILL song and continue to ask for support, hoping that someday, our pond will be full of legislators willing to listen to the supermajority of Iowans and make this happen.”

Maybe people in conservation and those who support it do not give up because we have taken our cues from Mother Nature. Nothing is more resilient than the natural world around us. Like how a prairie seed can endure decades of laying in the soil before waiting for the right conditions to sprout and flourish. How some species of Cicadas spend 17 years waiting to emerge at just the right time to complete their life cycle in just a few weeks. How the oak trees we are planting today will slowly grow inch by inch, year after year, to someday tower above our grandchildren and inspire awe, wonder, and stewardship ethic. We will continue to put our heads down, work hard to accomplish our goals and persist.

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Today’s Quote – “Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.” – Hal Borland

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Emily Herring is the director of Marshall County Conservation and a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS in Animal Ecology. Contact her at: 2349 233rd Street Marshalltown, IA 50158 or eherring@marshcountyia.gov.

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