QUASQUETON — With shrinking budgets, Iowa state parks increasingly are getting by with a little help from their friends.
Cedar Rock State Park, site of a well-preserved Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house, is a case in point.
About 50 people turned out on a rainy Saturday to celebrate the $200,000 restoration of the Wright home’s unique boathouse — a project park leaders acknowledged would not have happened without the leadership and determination of the Friends of Cedar Rock.
“We are becoming increasingly dependent upon friends groups,” said Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp, who praised their willingness to assume some “economic ownership of our state parks.”
Gipp cited similar friends group contributions to the construction of a visitor center at the Decorah Fish Hatchery (the first Iowa facility to be built entirely with funds raised by a friends group) and the $12 million revitalization of Lake Darling State Park.
The boathouse would have continued to deteriorate if the friends group had not raised the money through grants and donations, said Katie Hund, site manager at Cedar Rock, the state-owned estate built by Wright for Lowell and Agnes Walter in the early 1950s.
“These public-private partnerships, with extensive local community involvement, are key to preserving the heritage of our state parks,” said Todd Coffelt, chief of the DNR Parks Bureau.
Hund said the boathouse, with its overhanging roof and cantilevered construction, is one of only five such structures designed by Wright and the only one in its original condition. It echoes key features of the main house, which sits at the opposite end of the limestone spine known as Cedar Rock.
While the house had been well preserved, deferred maintenance and prolonged exposure to the elements had degraded the river pavilion, which features a fireplace, sleeping and lounging quarters, boat storage and launching facilities and a deck overlooking the Wapsipinicon River.
About 6,000 deteriorated bricks were replaced during the restoration last August and September.
Workers also replaced much of the building’s concrete exterior and refinished the walnut woodwork in the room that served as Lowell Walter’s office.
Hund said Walter considered the boathouse his personal retreat and spent time there relaxing and making phone calls to the tenants of the 5,000 acres of farmland he once owned in Buchanan County.
When he died in 1981, he and his widow Agnes left Cedar Rock to the Iowa Conservation Commission and the people of Iowa.
Friends of Cedar Rock President Allison York of Iowa City attributed much of the fundraising effort’s success to grant application writers Jerry and Patty Reisinger of Quasqueton and Carl Thurman of Cedar Falls.
They helped secure grants from the state’s Resource Enhancement and Protection program, the Black Hawk County Gaming Association, the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa and the Buchanan County Community Foundation.
Cedar Rock is open to the public Thursday through Sunday from Memorial Day weekend into October. It had been open from Wednesday through Sunday until this year, when budget constraints limited its days of operation.