It’s show-and-tell time for Maquoketa Caves State Park.
“I’m ready to show off the hard work we did this summer,” Park Ranger Scott Dykstra said. “We’ve had a lot of calls from people asking when it will be open.”
Although some visitors already are showing up, the answer really is Aug. 24, in time for fall travelers and outdoor enthusiasts, according to Todd Coffelt, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Parks Bureau chief.
Work at the park over the summer was extensive. In addition to resurfacing the road through the 111-acre park in Jackson County, northwest of Maquoketa, the Iowa DNR cleaned sediment from Dancehall Cave — which probably is the park’s most popular attraction — upgraded lighting in caves to LED, developed a new footbridge on the woodland trail, installed new boardwalks on all trails, upgraded electrical campsites and converted non-electrical campsites to electrical. There’s a new check-in station for campers and a new roof, ceiling and lighting on the shower building.
Originally, the plan was to only rebuild the park road, but Dykstra said the Iowa DNR found funds to make other upgrades while the park was closed.
“It was things we knew had to be done, so we killed two birds with one stone and did both projects at the same time,” said Dykstra, a ranger there since 2009.
He thinks visitors will appreciate the improvements, especially the better lighting in the caves.
Dancehall, 1,100 feet long, is the most popular because visitors can walk upright and, thanks to the lighting, photography is easier in Dancehall than other caves.
“The rest of caves are cool, but whether people will enjoy them depends on a person’s sense of adventure,” he said.
The other caves are various sizes and shapes. Some can be explored by walking; others only by crawling.
Other popular features of the park are the Natural Bridge, which stands nearly 50 feet above Raccoon Creek, and the 17-ton Balanced Rock along the 6-mile trail system that takes hikers past a restored prairie, an experimental savanna and a wildlife food plot.
Campers can make reservations for the night of Aug. 24 and later by visiting the state park online reservation system: iowastateparks.reserveamerica.com.
Additionally, the public is welcome to join the Dubuque, Jackson and Jones OWL (Older, Wiser, Livelier) club at 2 p.m. Aug. 24 for a 2- to 3-mile guided tour of Maquoketa Caves. The hike will be followed by a cash supper at 4 p.m. at Bluff Lake Catfish Farm outside the park. To attend, RSVP by Tuesday by calling (563) 652-3783.
The Friends of the Maquoketa Caves State Park is planning its annual Pancakes in the Park fundraiser from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 22.
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