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Camping Along The Mississippi River in Iowa

Camping along the Mississippi River conjures up thoughts of Mark Twain or maybe Louis and Clark. The history, the tranquility – the flowing water from one place to another. We touched base with Cindy Klebe who works with the US Army Corps of Engineers on the Mississippi River Project and is responsible for 7 of the river’s recreation areas in both Iowa and Illinois to shine some light on these outstanding recreation areas.

Camping Along The Mississippi River Iowa

Camp Iowa: How long have there been established parks designated for camping along the river?

Klebe: Designated camping at parks along the river were first established as early as 1959 at Shady Creek Recreation Area. In the late 1970’s and early 80’s, more and more recreational use was occurring along the river. This prompted the need for modernized campgrounds, boat ramps, and other day use recreation areas, to accommodate the growing number of visitors.”

Camp Iowa: What are the main reasons that people choose to camp along the Mississippi River?

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Camping along the Mississippi River gives people a sense of adventure

Klebe: Camping along the Mississippi River gives people a sense of adventure. Historically, the river is and still is the lifeline of many industries. It perhaps takes them back to a time during their childhood, when they recall seeing logs floating down it in the summer months or helping their Grandma and Grandpa’s cutting ice blocks from it in the winter. To the more recent users of the river, it provides them a quiet place to fish and relax; or a place to swim and boat the weekend away. Whatever the main reasons are for camping along the river, folks are sure to enjoy the “getting away from it all” feeling, when they set up their campsite, toss a line in the river, prepare their supper over an open fire, and watch the sun set over the glistening calm waters of the Mississippi. That is an experience, that is hard to match anywhere.

Camp Iowa: What activities does each of the parks offer? Rentals? Programs?

Klebe: The Class A recreation areas offer Saturday night programming from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. The locks and dams offer Lock and Dam tours every Sunday at 2 pm during the same period. Free rental of Nature Backpacks, Horseshoes, and Volleyball are also available at our Class A areas.

Camp Iowa: Can you bring your own firewood into the parks?

Klebe: We have bundled firewood you can purchase at our Class A areas. We do not encourage campers to bring their own firewood because of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), which is an exotic beetle that was discovered in southeastern Michigan near Detroit in the summer of 2002. EAB kills all ash species by larval burrowing under the bark and eating the actively growing layers of the trees. Since 2002, EAB has spread to numerous states. Transportation via infested firewood poses the greatest threat for its spread to our recreation areas and forest lands. So please help us prevent and slow the spread of EAB: Do not transport firewood, leave your firewood at home, use firewood from local sources, and burn all firewood before leaving the park.

Camp Iowa: When guests leave the parks for an outing, where do they usually go in the area?

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Trails and observation decks are open to the public

Klebe: Wildcat Den State Park is just north of Shady Creek, offering hiking trails and the historic Pine Creek Grist Mill built in 1848.
The Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge is a 40-minute drive downstream. Trails and observation decks are open to the public. Hunting and fishing are allowed in many area of the refuge.
Other areas of interest may be the Quad Cities. Many museums, river boats, kids attractions, farmer’s markets, concerts, and minor league baseball games at the recently voted “nicest ball park in the country”, Modern Woodman Park next to the Centennial Bridge along the river; are a few of the attractions not far from Clark’s Ferry and Shady Creek Recreation Areas.

Camp Iowa: Do you sell ice or any food stuffs in the parks? If not, how far to the nearest convenience store?

Klebe: Provided by our cooperative association with the Quad Cities Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, we sell firewood and pop from our Class A parks. The closest place to by food items and ice are going to be from the towns of Buffalo or Muscatine, IA.

Camp Iowa: Do you offer any group camping sites?

Klebe: I do not have any group camping sites at my recreation areas. Some group camping sites however, are offered at the Thomson Ranger Station, located in Thomson, IL.

Camp Iowa: How secluded are the campsites along the river?

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Camping Along The Mississippi River in Iowa

Klebe: Of the seven different recreation areas that I manage from the I280 bridge in Davenport down to Burlington, IA, I would say I have 2 campgrounds that have secluded campsites. One being on the IL side called Blanchard Island and the other on the IA side called Ferry Landing. Ferry Landing is located outside of Oakville, IA along the river. It is our one free campground that we manage.

Camp Iowa: Can you make reservations for the campsites or are they on a first come – first served basis?

Klebe: At our Class A areas, 60% of the campsites are reservable, the other 40% are first come-first serve. None of my other parks have reservable sites. They are all first come-first serve.

Camp Iowa: If you could spend just 1 night in a Mississippi River campsite, which campsite would you choose – and why?

Klebe: I would spend this night at Blanchard Island Recreation area, site #5. This site is located at the downriver end of the campground, and is a good fishing from the bank spot.

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