State panel bans Beaver Creek paddling, snowmobiling in Camp Dodge’s line of fire

Johnston, Iowa, Mayor Paula Dierenfeld, front, leads a group of kayakers at the dedication of Johnston's new Beaver Creek access. (Photo courtesy of the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization)

Canoeing, kayaking and snowmobiling will be banned on a northern stretch of Beaver Creek in Johnston because recreationalists are in danger of being injured or killed by live fire and explosives from nearby Camp Dodge, headquarters of the Iowa National Guard. 

The governor-appointed Iowa Natural Resource Commission approved the ban, requested by the Guard. The Guard will post signs on the waterway from Iowa Highway 141 and Northwest 70th Avenue noting it is off limits for any recreation.

The ban doesn’t apply to the stretch south of Northwest 70th Avenue, where the city in August opened a highly publicized access to Beaver Creek on land donated by nearby Corteva Agriscience. The creek will remain open for recreation from that access south.

The Johnston Beaver Creek access was the first of more than 80 projects planned by Central Iowa governments to invite recreation on local rivers at a cost of more than $100 million.

Two resource commissioners, Tom Prickett of Glenwood and Kim Francisco of Lucas, objected to the Guard’s request for the new rule, which goes into effect July 22 unless a state rules review committee blocks it.

“My concern is that Camp Dodge is conducting an inherently dangerous activity,” Prickett told fellow commissioners. “They should not be discharging anything into the water. They should take steps to protect the public and the waterway whether from a wall or some other feature.

“I don’t think their activity justifies restricting access to the navigable waterway,” Prickett said. “We should keep that waterway open to the public.”

Francisco agreed. “That a tough one,” he said.

Nate Hoogeveen, DNR river programs coordinator, said Guard officials asked for the ban, referring to no-trespassing zones around the Mississippi River locks and dams as a precedent. He said the Guard has taken actions to protect the public, but wants added safety.

“I would not say there are regular discharges into the creek,” Hoogeveen told the commission. “(The Guard is) very concerned about a random incident.”

Hoogeveen, who authored a book on Iowa canoeing and kayaking, supported the ban.

Guard officials discussed a phase-out of the ban in the future, Hoogeveen added.

“They don’t think live-fire training will happen there forever,” said Hoogeveen, noting that DNR officers also train there.