LAKE PAHOJA, Iowa (KELO) — Seven years after their offices were flooded with one foot of water, the Lyon County Conservation office is ready to show off its new home.
And longtime Lyon County Conservation director Craig Van Otterloo is thrilled to share his new workplace with the public.
“My office is here now. I don’t know how much real work I can get done because there will be a lot of visitors,” said Van Otterloo, who has been in his position for 33 years.
The northwestern Iowa County purchased the 18 acres adjacent to Lake Pahoja in 2013 and the vision for an education/nature center developed. Then disaster struck, when the Rock River flooded county offices in June 2014.
“We started this in 2014 when our conservation board office was flooded out,” Van Otterloo said. “Black mold entered the walls. It was not usable.”
Since then the conservation office has had temporary offices and many of the county’s natural artifacts and taxidermy mounts were kept in storage. Those artifacts have come to life inside the $1.97 million Lake Pahoja Nature Center. A wildlife diorama takes center stage inside the two-story multipurpose building.
“We’re excited to showcase. I’ve been telling kids we’re throwing a party,” Lyon County Naturalist Emily Ostrander said.
The first party is set for Thursday night when the building holds an opening party for donors of the project. The second party is set for Saturday — the building’s grand opening to the public will be an open house from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“It’s going to be a fun day,” Van Otterloo said. “The weather looks typical Memorial Day-like. Rain, a little wet, cold; perfect to come in and check it out.”
Office hours at the nature center will be 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Ostrander said people should follow Lyon County Conservation on Facebook or to email her for a monthly newsletter for updates on programs and events at the nature center.
Inside the nature center people will also be able to find a fireplace with a coffee house-type setup complete with tea and coffee.
“The internet isn’t very good in the park, so this is going to be a hot spot,” Van Otterloo said. “You can sit on the patio and deck to see a great view.”
The basement will be set up for educational classes with tables and chairs. With easy access to the outside, Ostrander said classes that get “messy and dirty” will be easier to teach in that location.
Van Otterloo thanked the people of Lyon County, the board of supervisors, our foundation, the park’s foundation, the staff and all the donors.
Lake Pahoja: The ‘perfect location’ for an education center
Located in between Larchwood, Iowa and Inwood, Iowa, Lake Pahoja has developed into an outdoor paradise in the far northwestern corner of the Hawkeye State.
Lake Pahoja welcomes 70,000 to 90,000 visitors annually, according to Van Otterloo. There’s 90 camping sites available, eight cabins, a 4-mile bike trail, six picnic shelters with modern restroom facilities, three playgrounds, two volleyball courts, a basketball court and horseshoe pits.
“Lake Pahoja is highly developed with camping,” Van Otterloo said. “A perfect spot to add another key piece to the puzzle at this park.”
For the upcoming Memorial Day weekend the Lake Pahoja campground is booked full. Van Otterloo is expecting another fun-filled summer capitalizing on the boom 2020 created because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t know if we can get any busier than last summer,” Van Otterloo said. “We got inundated. You can social distance out here. We expect the same thing this year.”
He thanked the people of Lyon County, the board of supervisors, our foundation, the park’s foundation, the staff and all the donors.
Ostrander said she’s excited for the summer season.
“Nature never closes down,” she said. “It’s good for the soul.”