Snow enjoys working close to the resource as new Effigy Mounds superintendent

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Susan Snow started as superintendent of Effigy Mounds National Monument, located north of Marquette, in September. She’s since enjoyed learning more about the park and its resources, working with staff and envisioning ways Effigy Mounds can connect with visitors as well as area communities. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


A few months in to her role as superintendent at Effigy Mounds National Monument, Susan Snow has enjoyed learning more about the park and its resources, working with the employees she oversees and envisioning ways Effigy Mounds can connect with the communities around it.


Snow came to Effigy Mounds from San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, where she was archaeologist and cultural resource manager for almost 23 years. She’s no stranger to Iowa, though. Snow was born and raised in the state and also worked for Iowa’s Office of the State Archaeologist for nine years after graduate school.


Human activity is what interested her in the career field.


“What I’ve found throughout the course of my career is that, whether you’re looking at people from 10,000 years ago or people from 100 years ago, it’s all people. They’re both puzzles. One may have a few more puzzle pieces than the other, but they’re both puzzles to put together to try to better understand how people lived or how un-different they were than we are today,” Snow explained.


Effigy Mounds was always on the short list of sites Snow would like to work should she transition from archaeology into a supervisory position. Her mother’s family is from Cresco, so she grew up spending weekends in northeast Iowa. Snow also liked that Effigy Mounds’ smaller size would keep her close to the resource.


“If you go to a big park, you’re still taking care of the resource, but you’re so far removed,” she said. “Here, on any given day, I may get to be out walking the trails, looking at trail work or what plants are there, talking about ideas for telling more stories or working in the visitor center. That’s fun.”


In her role as superintendent, Snow oversees staff as well as the day to day operations at Effigy Mounds National Monument.


By starting in September, Snow was able to connect with the park’s seasonal staff. That included a tour and insight from the seasonal maintenance crew on projects and how they thought the resource should be best protected. Seasonal biologists updated her on their work on invasive species removal while also noting rare and endangered plants in the Effigy Mounds heritage area, which isn’t yet open to the public.


“We’re also doing maintenance on the trails that park staff initiated before I got here,” Snow shared. “There hasn’t been trail maintenance in almost a decade. Ruts had evolved that were 18 to 24 inches deep in some parts of the trail, and they were filled this summer. So the trails are in better shape than they have been in a long time.”


Additionally, Snow looks at the “big picture” plans for the park and what’s best for the resource.


In 2023, Effigy Mounds hopes to lead the first guided hike into the heritage addition. Access will come via older existing roads.


“Before it became a national park, this area had been logged heavily, so it means there are a lot of old paths. As we look at expanding trails, rather than making new trails and causing new damage to the landscape, we’re going to look at sweeping off some of those old trails and using those. Then people can explore different areas of the park but we’re not putting in new infrastructure unless we absolutely have to,” Snow said. 


“Everything we do changes the landscape forever,” she continued. “We have to look at if it’s best to limit visitation and trails, or is it better to open up more areas so we have more eyes that love the resource. Then, what does restoring the cultural landscape mean and what does it look like? Are we envisioning returning to the cultural landscape of the mound building era or to what Europeans first saw? It’s the superintendent’s job to guide those discussions and look at what the best strategies are.”


Snow stated another primary duty as superintendent is forming relationships with the community and letting people know the different ways Effigy Mounds can partner with or aid them.


Educational opportunities with K-12 schools is an example, as are economic development and tourism, through Effigy Mounds’ role in bringing people to the area.


Snow wants to remind the public that Effigy Mounds is open year-round. Although the visitor center is currently closed two days per week due to short staffing, trails are always accessible.


That includes hiking and, if they trails are snow-covered, snowshoeing and even cross country skiing.


“I’ve hiked since the leaves have fallen, and that’s a totally different experience. Not just from a hiking perspective, but an interaction with the mounds perspective. Just the sense you have is different. There are different experiences in the different seasons,” Snow said. “We encourage people to come and experience that.”


Events are another way to move the park outward. Snow hopes to spring board off several successful night hike programs this fall by offering similar activities.


“I’d love to have a guided winter hike with maybe a birding expert or animal tracks expert that could identify things we might not see in the spring or summer. Even though it’s cold, a night hike onto the boardwalk and looking at the winter night sky would also be a fun one. We’re also working hard on how we can reignite the winter film festival,” she said. “We need a few more bodies to get things going, but I’m excited about the potential here.”


“Wouldn’t it be great if this was a Saturday or Sunday destination for the communities around here to come with their families?” Snow wondered. “We’d have a program here where they could learn more about the people who built the mounds, the people who came after that, the animals and plants of this area.”


For Snow, that outreach is what helps build current and new generations of people who love Effigy Mounds and all it offers.


She also feels a strong responsibility to the tribes who find the place so special but haven’t always felt welcome or that their voices were heard.


“It’s a big responsibility to know you’re respecting both their needs and desires while at the same time, through visitation, developing the next generation of people who are going to consider this place special and continue to help preserve it and areas around it. Build that feeling that everyone has a responsibility in preserving these special places,” Snow said. “If you live in northeast Iowa, the landscape defines you and the mounds help define you because the mounds were built as a spiritual outgrowth of the natural landscape. You can ignore it, but you can’t escape it. They’re particularly sacred to our native tribes, but they are everybody’s history, and I hope that’s a sense we can purvey to the public.”

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