PHOTO: After nine years as the Jones County Conservation Director, Larry Gullett is leaving for the director position in Johnson County. Since he started working here, Gullett has been able to accomplish many projects to improve water quality and wildlife in Jones County for years to come. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
After nine years with Jones County Conservation as the director and dozens of projects later, Larry Gullett is leaving Jones County for a position in Johnson County.
“I’ve lived here almost 10 years, so it’s bittersweet,” offered Gullett. “I want to thank everyone for their support over the years.”
Gullett said Jones County has been more supportive of Conservation activities compared to many other counties in Iowa. “They recognize that Jones County is a great place to be from a natural resource perspective,” said Gullett. Jones County ranks in the top five counties in Iowa as far as protecting natural resources.
Gullett started his position in Jones County in January of 2004 after the previous director, Brad Halterman, left.
“I had the opportunity to move into a director position,” explained Gullett.
Prior to moving to Jones County, Gullett’s past professional experience speaks for itself. He was a national park ranger in Dallas County, Iowa. He spent five years working for conservation in Jasper County, Iowa. He has three years of experience working for the Army Corps of Engineers.
“That experience has been exceptionally invaluable,” Gullett said of working for the Corps of Engineers. Over the years, they have been involved in numerous projects alongside Jones County Conservation.
In nine years, there are so many projects Gullett has been a major part of and spearheaded from start to finish.
“It wasn’t any one particular project,” Gullett said that stands out in his mind.
The Hale Wildlife Area is composed of 200 acres of abandoned farmland. Gullett explained this was raw farmland that was donated to the county. Since then, 60 additional acres has been added to the area, with 25 acres of planted trees, 200-plus acres of prairie and six ponds.
“The wetlands have been restored in that area,” said Gullett.
Another major project was the Maquoketa River Water Trail, which encompasses Mon Maq Dam and Pictured Rocks, both in the Monticello area. Gullett said that was a $1 million-plus project that was a huge success.
“The dam went from a liability to an asset,” he said of the vast improvements.
The Hamilton Tapken Prairie Preserve, which was made possible thanks to land donated by both families, is made up of 80 acres.
“This area is becoming known across the state as the best remaining prairie in Iowa,” Gullett said with pride. There are 40-plus plant species found on this land, which many are quite rare for this area.
The Whitewater Canyon/Lost Canyon project was huge in the scope of things, dealing with 563 acres, 13 caves and more!
“It’s a spectacular area!” boasted Gullett. “It’s very scenic.”
He said they just finished converting some old farmland into a prairie and wildlife area.
“The work is never done,” said Gullett.
Some other projects on his resume will include Eby’s Mill Wildlife Area.
“This is a $2 million project that the county got for $700,000,” explained Gullett, thanks to outside funding sources and generous donations. “This will be a huge project and asset to Jones County.”
The Conservation Board is also in the process of working on the Central Park Lake Restoration project.
“This has taken most of my time the past year and a half,” said Gullett of the extensive work to complete each phase of this project.
The project will enhance the features at Central Park and clean up the lake and water quality, something many in Iowa feel passionate about.
“The landowners we’ve worked with for many of these projects helped make everything possible,” Gullett said. “We have a great relationship with the private landowners adjacent to our areas.”
That, along with securing outside funding sources, is why Gullett has been a huge asset to Jones County himself. He’s been able to receive grants for so much of the work he’s done, saving taxpayers in the long run.
“The only way projects work is through outside funding,” he said. “It’s because of these outside resources we get the money we do.”
In his years with Jones County, Gullett has seen many changes in conservation, with the way things have been managed and allowed to grow, all for the betterment of Jones County.
“We used the county’s strengths to make the most of things here,” he said. “The river systems and scenic landscapes play off the county’s strengths.”
One of those county strengths is Mon Maq Dam in Monticello. While that area has already received needed improvements, Gullett found out early last week that the county was successful in receiving a grant from the Iowa DOT (a federal recreational trails grant) to tear out a portion of the dam and construct a whitewater rafting/tubing area and improve the fish habitat as well. The $184,625 grant is a great start!
“The funding is all in place for the project to move in the next direction,” Gullett said. “It has the potential to transform the whole community of Monticello!”
This good news comes as Gullett prepares to leave the area on June 30, though his passion for this particular project has accomplished so much already.
This project already received $43,583 from the Iowa DNR for dam safety purposes, with just over $6,000 left to raise between the City of Monticello and Jones County.
As Gullett prepares to exit Jones County and head into Johnson County to start his new conservation director position there, he just hopes Jones County Conservation keeps moving forward from here.
“There’s enough to keep busy here for a while,” Gullett alluded to. “It’s a bittersweet move because we absolutely loved Jones County!”