Retirement of longtime Allamakee County Conservation Director Jim Janett closes out 34-year career of strong department growth

Brings career of 34 years to a close ... Jim Janett, longtime director of the Allamakee County Conservation Board, stands next to the welcome sign at his retirement open house held in late April at the Driftless Area Education and Visitor Center in Lansing. Janett was the original director of the Allamakee County Conservation Board since its inception in 1989, his retirement bringing to a close a career of 34 years. Photo by Julie Berg-Raymond.

The changing of the guard ... Jim Janett, original director of the Allamakee County Conservation Board since its inception in 1989, stands with new director Ross Geerdes at the retirement open house held for Janett in late April at the Driftless Area Education and Visitor Center in Lansing, marking an end to Janett’s 34-year career in that position and the transition of Geerdes from his original position of naturalist with the Allamakee County Conservation Board. “He’s a dynamic individual, and he’s going to bring a lot of energy,” Janett said of Geerdes. Photo by Julie Berg-Raymond.

by Julie Berg-Raymond

When Jim Janett retired from the Allamakee County Conservation Department last month, he left an organization of which he’d been a part almost since its inception.

While county conservation boards have existed in Iowa since 1956 - a year after the 56th General Assembly passed the “County Conservation Law,” which created a conservation-outdoor recreation program - it wasn’t until 1989 that Allamakee County was added as the state’s 99th, and last, county conservation board. The Allamakee County Conservation Board (ACCB) was established in January of that year, and Janett started working part-time for them in September.

“We had to start off from scratch,” Janett recalls. “We didn’t have a pencil or a piece of paper, or anything. The board just started off very small, putting the pieces together.” Looking at other county conservation boards which had been in existence for 35 years prior to theirs, Janett says, was “helpful in figuring out the direction we wanted to go.” The board started out working with a couple of small parks, education programs in schools, and a private lands program that was focused on habitat development.

It’s that latter function of the ACCB that Janett says he will miss the most - in particular, he notes, “stream bank stabilization and cold-water stream restoration.” A recent example of that work was just finished last fall, he says - on property donated to Allamakee County by the Celia Sander Garrett Foundation - that involved restoration of a trout habitat. He says he enjoyed this work so much because it involved working with what he calls “some of northeast Iowa’s hidden treasures. We have some of the best cold-water streams in the nation.”

The work, he says, is “something that you can feel was an accomplishment; and it’ll be there for generations.” Janett’s interest in working with stream stabilization and habitat development is rooted in a lifelong love of the outdoors. “My fondest memories as a kid are of trout fishing in Iowa streams with my cousins and friends,” he says.

Born in Allamakee County near Postville, Janett grew up to attend the University of Northern Iowa and worked his first job out of college as a seasonal natural resource aid at Yellow River State Forest. When he started at the ACCB, things were a little different around the office than they are now.

“We used typewriters, and carbon paper,” he recalls. “And we wrote letters, versus emails; we had phone conversations, versus texts. It’s more efficient now, but you lose the personal contact.”

Among the most notable accomplishments of the ACCB is the establishment of the Driftless Area Education and Visitor Center, opened in 2017. The Center’s purpose, as described on its website at, is “to promote ACCB environmental education programs, youth education, and provide a venue for conservation organizations and teacher workshops.” Recently added to the Center is a 16-foot-long, 1,250-gallon aquarium which will be filled with local fish species including bass, bluegill and northern pike.

One of the things Janett says he will remember most fondly about his tenure with the ACCB is “how wonderful it is to work with people in the community on the education center here - through their countless volunteer hours, and the fundraising efforts that made it happen. It wasn’t one or two individuals,” he says. “It was a lot of people in the public who made it happen.”

Since its inception, the Center has hosted more than 75,000 visitors from all 50 states and dozens of countries. “We just had some visitors from Switzerland,” Janett notes.

Janett is quick to note that the successes of the ACCB through the years - including having developed handicapped fishing access in the county - are not about him. “We’ve had a really excellent staff over the years,” he says. “Some of our full-time and seasonal folks have gone to the National Parks Service, and the Iowa and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). We’ve launched a lot of careers in this department over the years.”

Among the staff members who have excelled at the ACCB is Ross Geerdes, who has been with the organization since 2013 when he was hired as its first full-time naturalist. Recently named the new director of the ACCB, Geerdes says he admired the way that “Jim was very considerate of all parties that may be interested in a project. He took everyone’s comments into consideration and made every project the ACCB completed as successful as possible.”

Geerdes wants to continue and build on the relationships Janett has forged with other agencies during his tenure, he says, “including the DNR, United States Fish and Wildlife, and other departments within Allamakee County like the Engineer’s office and the Sheriff’s office; and to provide the communities and citizens of Allamakee County with the best outdoor experiences possible.”

“He’s a dynamic individual, and he’s going to bring a lot of energy,” Janett says of Geerdes. As for himself, Janett is looking forward to getting back outside. “I’d like to get back out and re-introduce myself to some of the cold-water streams,” he says - “and revisit some of the places we’ve worked on through the years.”