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tzel Looks Back on Long-Time Career By John Speer

April 18, 2019
Northern-Sun Print
“I was applying for jobs all over the place and ended up getting hired for this one down here,” says Bob Etzel. “Down here” is the position he has held since April 1, 1979 - 40 years on the job as director of the Tama County Conservation Commission. “Irony, April 1, my 40th anniversary day, was Logan’s (Roberts) first day as director,” Etzel said. He officially retired on that date but is continuing for a short item in an advisory capacity. (See accompanying Roberts story.) Etzel is a Sioux City native whose parents were school teachers. He went to high school and attended Morningside College there for three years before transferring to the University of Idaho at Moscow, where he received a B.S. degree in Wildland Recreation Management from the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Range Management Upon going to work in charge of not only the Otter Creek Lake and Park, Etzel assumed responsibility for other Tama County Conservation properties, a list that’s grown to include 15 with an area totaling 1,100 acres. There’s the 70-acre lake, buildings, employees and more. And much of that has built up under Etzel’s leadership in tandem with the five-member Conservation Board. “The way I’ve always looked at it is the board gives us the direction they want to go and it’s the the director’s job to get us there,” Etzel says. Of the centerpiece- Otter Creek Lake and Park- he says “The components were all here when I arrived, it’s just been a question of refining them.” He characterizes the lake ,built in a ‘central location” for Tama County residents to have easy access. Etzel credits original board members Rich Beecher, Traer, and Ed Hix Jr., Dysart, for having the vision for the lake park development. The park has come a long way from what Etzel calls “the cowboy days” of the early 1970s when camping “was allowed wherever there was a spot.” There is now a modern area with electricity and restrooms on the east side with tent camping continuing to be allowed on the west. One of, if not the biggest single addition to the entire Tama County conservation effort has likely been the construction and development of the Otter Creek Nature Center with the visitors and usage it draws. It includes a large meeting hall with kitchen facilties, a diorama display and future plans for more use. “The way I’ve always looked it accomplishments, it’s not me, it takes a of people. With the nature center I’ve met some many interesting people who support the program, it’s mor of we thing than a me thing.” The Conservation Board and Etzel point with pride no county tax money was used for it construction- “You’re looking at a $1.5 million building in a small county,” Etzel says. He says guests who might not have an interest fishing or boating are among its many users. He says the “explosion in kayaking in the last few years has resulted it sometimes 15-20 kayakers on the water on weekends He also notes early days of “egg shaped trailers” has given way to motor homes and air conditioning over the use of “box fans they sat on the picnic tables.” The original park. property was 275 acres with efforts on going “for the better part of 20 years to get nearby highly erodible farm ground out of production which surround the lake,” Etzel says. Since 2007 four parcels have been added. Away from the lake site, Etzel also oversees the 79-acre T.F. Clark located northeast of Dysart, a roadside park, four boat landings along the Iowa River, four wildlife areas, the Izak Walton Shooting facility west of Toledo and the Wolf Creek Trail at Gladbrook. At Otter Creek Park and Lake alone, the usage is estimated at between 85,000 and 100,000 people annually. In addition to property management the director has responsibility for three full-time employees, seasonal help up to eight total and is also a park ranger. “Not many people have the opportunity to live on a lake for 40 years,” Bob says. He and his wife, Karen, raised their family of four children, Emmy, Ashley, Caleb and Caity five grandchildren while living at the director’s home at Otter Creek Lake. Karen Etzel is a Registered Nurse. She has a few more years to work in her career before she joining Bob in retirement. “I love my job that what makes it hard,” Bob says of retirement. “That’s the thing about the job, it allows you to dream and be creative.” “I’ve always loved the people I’ve worked with, I’ve had a really good crew, I love the board members and love working with people. The board of supervisors have been good to work with over the years,” Etzel says of his 40-year career.

Article Photos

Bob and Karen Etzel in a 1979 Toledo Chronicle file photo taken shortly after he assumed duties as what was then “Executive Director” of the Tama County Conservation Board. After 40 years in the director’s job he retired April 1. Karen, an RN, has a few more years to work to complete her career.
Chronicle/John Speer



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