For anyone who likes to have fun in the outdoors, Brushy Creek State Recreation Area in southwest Webster County is a top attraction.
Covering some 6,500 acres, it offers camping, hiking and horseback riding trails, as well as fishing, boating and swimming in its 690-acre lake.
The park contributes greatly to the quality of life and the economy of the region.
But establishing it has been an effort, sometimes filled with controversy, that began about 60 years ago and took decades to accomplish.
About 40 people gathered at Olde Boston’s Restaurant & Pub on Wednesday to thank three people who played a key role in creating the park.
• Janet Adams, a former state representative who later became mayor of Webster City.
• Jerry Fitzgerald of Fort Dodge, former state representative turned lobbyist
• Richard Stark, a local businessman who advocated for the park
Also recognized on Wednesday were two men involved in the effort who have since died. They were Don Avenson, a former Speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives, and Michael Carrier, an employee of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
“We did it on behalf of everyone,” Adams said.
“There’s something for everyone there, which is kind of a magical thing to have in your community,” she said of the park.
According to Fitzgerald, Adams led the efforts of the state House of Representatives to pass the legislation needed to create the park.
“She was very popular in the caucus” he said. “She was respected.
He said Stark started a park advocacy group and paid for most of his expenses.
Stark, however, gave much of the credit to Fitzgerald.
“Jerry was the puppeteer who did it all”, he said.
“I did not do anything” he added. “I just made a few phone calls. Then I went hunting with Don Avenson and let him kill all the pheasants.
According to Fitzgerald, the saga began in 1962. It was then that the Iowa Conservation Commission, the predecessor of the current Iowa Natural Resources Commission, began exploring the idea of creating four lakes. in the state. The Brushy Creek site was one of four locations proposed for a lake.
In 1974, the legislature appropriated funds to create a lake at Brushy Creek. No work was done, the money was never spent, and in 1980 the legislature removed it from the lake projects.
Then, in 1988, the state Senate passed an amendment that would have stopped all spending on a lake in Brushy Creek.
Fitzgerald, who worked as a lobbyist at the state Capitol, recalled that he received a call from Stark, who asked if there was anything he could do about the Senate amendment.
Fitzgerald promised to call Stark back in an hour, then went to see Avenson. While confirming that Avenson was still in favor of Brushy Creek Lake, he learned that the speaker would be going to a fundraiser for Adams that evening in Webster City.
Fitzgerald called Stark and asked him to go to the fundraiser. Then he drove Avenson to Webster City.
Fitzgerald said Stark and Avenson met while fundraising and are now allies in the effort to get a lake in Brushy Creek.
Back at the state Capitol, Adams led a successful effort to kill the Senate amendment in the House.
After the legislative session ended, she worked with DNR officials and took legislators to tour the Brushy Creek area.
During the 1989 legislative session, Adams, Avenson, and Fitzgerald worked to pass legislation that created a funding program that is still in place called the Resource Enhancement and Protection Program. The bill creating REAP specified that the first $8 million of the program would go to Brushy Creek.
Adams said some of his fellow House members were “very difficult to convince” but the bill passed.
With the money approved, construction of the dam to create the lake took about a decade.
Today, Brushy Creek is “probably the most diverse multi-use area in the state park system”, Park superintendent Amber O’Neill said Wednesday.
“I am constantly amazed by all the new people arriving from all over the state, the country and even the world,” she says.