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DES MOINES -- The Friends of Lake Darling group was recognized Aug. 16 as recipient of the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD) 2016 President’s Award.
Appropriately, Jim Dickinson, president of the friends group, and Todd Coffelt, DNR State Park bureau chief announced the award during the dedication of six new year-round cabins at the park. The cabins were a 50 percent cost-share with The Friends of Lake Darling, a donation amounting to $563,500.
The Friends of Lake Darling was selected from submissions across the country for its extraordinary contribution to a system of state parks. The award will be presented at the annual NASPD conference in Indiana next month.
“This is a fantastic accolade to the tremendous efforts and successes they have achieved over the years,” said Todd Coffelt, DNR State Parks Bureau Chief. “This park’s usage has increased dramatically from the improvements and publicity it’s received because of this group.”
The group formed in 2001, approximately the same time the DNR began watershed work in the area and plans for major lake renovation at the park.
“The main reason for forming this group,” says Dickinson, “was our concern over the deterioration of the lake and park facilities.”
With a mission to “make the great park of Lake Darling extraordinary,” the Friends of Lake Darling started out raising money with can and bottle collections, and helping with small projects around the park. In recent years, the group has brought in more than $1.5 million of donations and made improvements many thought were impossible.
“They are carrying out their mission, for sure,” said Coffelt. “This group has demonstrated what can be done when people are committed to a project, focused on goals and determined to make it happen.”
In 2006, the friends group met its biggest challenge by raising $600,000 in a 12-month period to provide the necessary funds to build the current Lake Darling lodge.
Between its formation in 2001 until the new lake filled and the park was rededicated in 2014, the Friends of Lake Darling also built the beach playground, partnered with the local Izaak Walton League to construct the ADA concrete fishing trail and also constructed the ADA fishing bridge which connects the park’s two campgrounds.
More recently, the group’s efforts have highlighted Jay N. “Ding” Darling, the famed political cartoonist and conservationist for whom the park is named. Thanks to the friends group, a life-sized bronze bust now greats visitors near the entrance to the park, a portion of Highway 78 just outside the park has been renamed “Ding Darling Memorial Highway,” and an interpretive pathway celebrating Darling’s life and accomplishments will soon be completed.
Earlier this year, Iowa Public Television aired the “Darling is Back!” documentary about the restoration of Lake Darling, the public/private partnership and the influence of the Ding Darling legacy on the project. Friends of Lake Darling provided sponsorship support for the film as well as information and research.