New Friends of Yellow River State Forest organization ready to get started

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Those who use and appreciate Yellow River State Forest now have a way to directly support this treasure in Allamakee County, thanks to the formation of a Friends of Yellow River State Forest organization. (Photo by Scott Boylen)

Those who use and appreciate Yellow River State Forest now have a way to directly support this treasure in Allamakee County. 

A group of approximately 10 area residents started working together late last spring to form a Friends of Yellow River State Forest (YRSF) organization. 

Now, they are ready for anyone and everyone who is interested to become involved. The new Friends of YRSF organization is holding the first public meeting of the Friends group on Sunday, March 3, at 2 p.m., at the Harpers Ferry Community Center.

Friend groups are made up of dedicated volunteers who raise funds, make park improvements and otherwise give support, according to the Iowa DNR. Across Iowa, these citizen groups work to improve, protect and preserve natural resources. 

“We are looking forward to setting goals and choosing future projects for Yellow River State Forest,” said Scott Boylen, Friends of YRSF president. 

“Yellow River State Forest is in the heart of the Driftless Region and it belongs to everyone. We can make it even better by working together,” he said.  

The group met in May of 2018 for the first time, and started the paperwork process to become an official Friends group. They filed Articles of Incorporation, officially became a 501 3(c) not-for-profit, wrote and approved by-laws, wrote a mission statement and set initial goals, established a Facebook page and are now working on the agenda for this first public meeting. 

Boylen said, “Friends of Yellow River State Forest can help preserve it for the future by creating a way for people to donate directly to this park, and opens volunteer opportunities to get many things done.”

The group’s mission is to  “Enhance Yellow River State Forest for public use while protecting the integrity of the flora, fauna, soil and water.”

Yellow River State Forest Park Ranger Rylan Retallick said, “The formation of the Friends group will benefit the users, residents of Allamakee County and the surrounding communities to provide an important partnership, while fulfilling the Department’s mission of conserving and enhancing natural resources to improve the quality of life in Iowa and ensure a legacy for future generations.” 

He added, “These partnerships are important because they are an organized effort for support to secure funding and to improve and protect this valuable resource. I am excited to work with and guide this group of dedicated citizens to provide a positive experience for all of our visitors.”

When asked why he became involved, board member Jeff Morris of Lansing said he wants to “maintain and improve a place that makes my heart smile.”

Board member Cindy Heffern added, “We are working together so this can continue to be a location where people can gather and enjoy nature.” 

Sandy Wood, secretary, said she became involved because Yellow River State Forest is part of her heritage. 

Yellow River State Forest is a place for everyone in all seasons, said the charter members.  Yellow River State Forest consists of 8,900 acres and has a cabin for rent, 135 campsites and five backpacking sites. There are 45 miles of trails, including trails designated for horses, bikes, snowmobiling, walking and cross country skiing. 

It is renowned for its Class A trout streams, and the state forest features about 10 miles of public stream access. 

The unique landscape features algific talus slopes, numerous rock outcrops, bluffs and steep slopes. There are hardwood forest and designated prairies, easy walking trails and terrain for the hiker who likes a more rugged terrain. 

There are three bluff vistas in the park that provide breathtaking views, and the only firetower in the state of Iowa. The red-shouldered hawk and cerulean warbler, both uncommon birds to this area, can often be found within the confines of the park. 

One of the main things the Friends group wants to do at the first public meeting is find out what type of projects people are most interested in. Retallick noted there are different groups who use the park in different ways: day users, equestrians, campers, anglers, hunters and bird watchers, just to name a few. The Friends group wants to make sure they hear from everyone when deciding which projects to tackle first. 

Of course, any projects will take money. Friends of YRSF is a not-for-profit, so donations are tax deductible. Donations can be made via Paypal on their Facebook page, mailed to P.O. Box 171, Harpers Ferry, IA 52146 or dropped of at Farmers and Merchants Bank. 

Any money donated to a Friends group goes directly to the park they are working with. Previously, there was no practical way for someone to donate directly to Yellow River State Forest.

Friends of YRSF will also be erecting bins to collect deposit cans and will be selling firewood in the park. Being an official Friends group also enables them to apply for grants for future projects. 

Friends of YRSF sponsored a First Day Hike on Jan. 1, which had nearly 40 people in attendance, and are planning on a volunteer day at the park to kick off summer on Saturday, May 4. 

At the first public meeting on March 3, Retallick will talk about why Friends groups are important to places such as Yellow River State Forest, and attendees will learn about what a Friends group can help accomplish.

Those interested can sign up for annual or lifetime memberships at the meeting. 

Many Iowa State Parks have Friends organizations. Typically, they help to organize volunteer events for such things as maintaining hiking trails and building picnic tables, trail benches and picnic shelters. Volunteers improve prairie and forest landscapes by planting trees or getting rid of noxious plants. Projects may include making interpretive signs, brochures, building playgrounds or parking areas. 

“The possibilities are really endless,” said Boylen. 

To learn more about the Friends of Yellow River State Forest, look up their Facebook page. To learn more about the state forest, go to

“I hope that you will take some time out of your busy schedules and support the Friends of Yellow River State Forest,” said Retallick. 

Yellow River State Forest is located 16 miles from Waukon, 15 miles from Marquette or 16 miles from Lansing. The cabin at Yellow River State Forest is located at park headquarters, 729 State Forest Rd., Harpers Ferry.

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