Letter to the Editor: Safety concerns at Yellow River State Forest

To the Editor:

This letter is in reference to the DNR’s decision to take a “passive management” approach to Yellow River State Forest. In doing so, they have cut the hours of the park ranger at Yellow River State Forest down to only eight hours per week. There are so many reasons why this is not a good idea - the big one being safety.

It is very concerning that there will be no park ranger available to people who are utilizing the forest as there are obviously many, many things that can happen that could cause injury. If such a thing does happen, there is no cell phone service in most of the forest. The camp host now has a landline but that is one area in nearly 10,000 acres of land.

The camp hosts will be leaving soon and people camp and use the trails, fish, etc. year-round at Yellow River. If you are backpack camping, there is a possibility that it could take an hour and a half to reach the office, depending on where you parked your vehicle. A lot of unnecessary suffering could be going on back at your campsite if there’s an injury. If we had a full-time park ranger, odds are that you would see him somewhere along your trek and that he would also be on the lookout for people in need of help. He could then radio the Sheriff’s office for help.

Many first responders do not know the area like the park ranger does, so the park ranger is an essential piece to the emergency management team. In addition, the current park ranger is trained in emergency response, so they can begin the necessary procedures instead of just waiting for help to arrive.

To add to the problem of no cell phone service in most of the forest, it could take officials as long as 45 minutes to get there, depending on where they are in the county. We all know there are hazards in everyday life. Add to that the potential dangers when hiking, camping, snowmobiling, mountain biking, horseback riding, or the many other recreational activities that Yellow River offers. As we all know, they are fun but there is a danger in them.

Also, of course, there are the flash floods that seem to happen in Yellow River almost every year that can clearly endanger the campers. Having a park ranger on duty or nearby can save valuable time in getting the campers evacuated safely and closing down roads and trails. Every minute counts in dangerous situations.

In 2020, there were 65,100 visitors to Yellow River and 12,552 people who camped there. You can bet that with that many people there throughout the year, there are bound to be some injuries. We want visitors to come to Allamakee County, so why not keep us all as safe as possible while enjoying this majestic area?

If you would like to help, please consider contacting Senator Klimesh at mike.klimesh@legis.iowa.gov or 563-380-4224; or Rep. Anne Osmundson at Anne.Osmundson@legis.iowa.gov or 563-880-8227 to tell them why you think the safety at Yellow River State Forest is in danger due to the DNR’s recent staffing change. Also, please take a moment to sign the petition at tiny.cc/yrsfranger.

Thank you,
Jack and Cindy Heffern
Harpers Ferry