We recently had the opportunity to speak with Dawn Helling, the secretary for Parks and Rec in Fort Madison, Iowa. She told us about the marina, music that comes to town – and what to bring to a rodeo. Listen to the full interview here:
Fort Madison Campgrounds
Camp Iowa: Today we’re talking with Dawn Helling. She is a Secretary for Parks and Rec in Fort Madison, Iowa. How’s it going today, Dawn?
Dawn Helling: Fine, thank you.
Camp Iowa: So, let’s talk a bit about Fort Madison City Campgrounds. How long has the camping been there and what kind of usage do you guys get down there?
Dawn Helling: It’s been here since about the 1950s. We get the most campers during rodeo time. We have a professional rodeo here, in Fort Madison. It’s in September. It’s always the weekend after Labor Day, and that’s when we have the most campers. Otherwise it’s just more steady during the summer. Not quite full, but we get quite a few campers here.
Camp Iowa: So, since we generally do these interviews to kind of provide information about the area for people that might want to visit, tell me a little bit about the Rodeo.
Dawn Helling: The Rodeo is a professional PRCA Rodeo. It takes place the weekend after Labor Day. We have it Wednesday night through Saturday night. It’s always in the evenings. On Friday and Saturday night, we always have professional entertainment. It’s always a big name group or performer, and there’s cowboys from all over. You know, rodeo people. We have World Champions that come in and ride and perform in rodeo.
Camp Iowa: Sure.
Dawn Helling: We always have very big crowds for those.
Camp Iowa: Great. And who performed this year? Who was the musical guest?
Dawn Helling: We had Little Big Town.
Camp Iowa: Fun.
Dawn Helling: And Rodney Atkins.
Camp Iowa: All right. Did you go?
Dawn Helling: Yes.
Camp Iowa: You’ve got to go, right?
Dawn Helling: Exactly.
Camp Iowa: Fun. So, what are some other attractions in the area worth checking out if somebody were camping at Fort Madison Campgrounds and they wanted to kind of venture out for the afternoon?
Dawn Helling: Sure. Okay, we have our Old Fort. It is a replica of the original Fort that was here, in Fort Madison. That’s down in our route, and we have a very beautiful riverfront on the Mississippi. There’s that, and we have marinas for anyone who has a boat, is interested in coming down, and going out on the river. We have Sante Fe Bridge. It’s over 150 years old. It’s one of the only swing span bridges left.
Camp Iowa: Okay.
Dawn Helling: We have a Sheaffer Pen Museum. The Sheaffer Family was from here, in Fort Madison, and that’s where Sheaffer pens originally came from. We have the building the factory was still in here and there’s a museum downtown now. We have the Rodeo Arena.
Camp Iowa: Yeah.
Dawn Helling: And we have quite a few beautiful parks. We have trails. Up by the Rodeo Arena there’s Rodeo Park, where they have disc golfing and a hiking trail, biking and walking trail. Let’s see.
Camp Iowa: That’s a lot going on. Now, outside of the Rodeo, let’s say you had some guests in town. Which one of all those activities you mentioned would you bring them to?
Dawn Helling: Definitely the Fort. It’s very interesting to learn the history of that Fort. And oh, we also have the State Prison here. It’s one of the first prisons in Iowa.
Camp Iowa: Okay.
Dawn Helling: It’s the first state prison and it’s huge.
Camp Iowa: You’re probably not going to bring your guest there though.
Dawn Helling: No, but it’s interesting to drive by, because it looks like a big castle.
Camp Iowa: Oh, okay, cool.
Dawn Helling: And definitely down by the riverfront.
Camp Iowa: Okay. And if you were going to spend the night in the campground there, in Fort Madison, Iowa, which specific campsite would you choose?
Dawn Helling: Well, because we have a camper, we would get an electrical site. There are twenty electrical sites and fifty non-electric sites, so I would definitely take an electric site because I have a camper.
Camp Iowa: Sure. Sure. Okay. And any tips for maybe somebody who’s going to that Rodeo for the first time that you could offer if they were going to visit?
Dawn Helling: Take plenty of money because there are vendors there that sell like Western wear and, you know, cowboy hats. They sell bells, cowboy boots.
Camp Iowa: Yeah. Yeah, and probably plenty of good food too.
Dawn Helling: Yes, and there is food. Yes, there is plenty of that.
Camp Iowa: All right.
Dawn Helling: And there is a Rodeo Museum in the Rodeo Arena grounds too. They just opened a couple years ago.
Camp Iowa: So, plenty to do.
Dawn Helling: Yes.
Camp Iowa: Okay. Well, hey, thanks for taking some time out of your morning to talk with us, Dawn. We really appreciate it.
Dawn Helling: You’re welcome.