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New ranger feels at home in Stone State Park

October 9, 2018

SIOUX CITY -- When the wild turkeys rolled out the welcome wagon minutes into Jason Dykstra’s first visit to Stone State Park, he knew he’d found a place he could live and work.

He had just interviewed for the vacant park ranger position earlier this year and had a pretty good feeling about his prospects of getting the job. Having never been to the park before, Dykstra and his wife decided to get a first-hand look at the state park on the northwest side of Sioux City.

They drove to the Elk Point overlook and got out of their vehicle to take in the view.

“Within 30 seconds we heard a turkey gobbling. I knew it was going to be a good fit,” said Dykstra, who assumed the ranger position in June, replacing park fixture Kevin Pape, who had retired in December.

Though Dykstra had never been to Stone State Park before, the North Liberty, Iowa, native was no stranger to Northwest Iowa. His father, Robert, is from Hull, and his grandfather Richard Dykstra had owned the pharmacy there for years. That initial drive through the park left an impression on the young Iowa Department of Natural Resources employee.

“I was pleasantly surprised. Hull and Sioux County is really flat. I enjoy recreating in timber,” Dykstra said.

There’s plenty of timber for Dykstra to tromp through in the park, so much that it makes his work feel like recreation sometimes. Like most DNR workers you talk to, Dykstra prefers his office to be an outdoor setting. His love for wildlife and the outdoors was sparked at a young age, when he spent hours hunting and fishing. He majored in animal ecology at Iowa State University and, though he didn’t know exactly what kind of career he wanted at first, working outdoors was a must.

“I bounced around ideas in college and knew I wanted to work outside and for the DNR someday,” Dykstra said. “I’m not the kind of person that can sit inside.”

He worked for the parks department in North Liberty during college, then took a job with the DNR at Ledges State Park in Boone. He was a natural resources technician at Volga River State Recreation Area in Fayette when he applied for the ranger position at Stone State Park. Dykstra was attracted to the law enforcement duties of a ranger in addition to the work outdoors among park visitors and campers.

“I really enjoy working with parks,” he said. “I get to deal with the public and help people out.”

Dykstra told his DNR superiors that he’d go anywhere to be a park ranger. After four months on the job, he’s glad they hired him to fill the Stone State Park position.

Hiking and walking trails wind through the timber that Dykstra enjoys so much. He’s fascinated with the native prairie and the preservation work Pape, park workers and volunteers have done in this beautiful park. He hopes to continue those preservation efforts as well as remove some of the overgrowth that has begun to hinder the views at some of the lookout areas.

The trails could use some work, he said, and the DNR plans to repair the park lodge and Calumet Shelter in the coming year.

It’s a big park with a lot to do, and Dykstra couldn’t be happier.

“I really enjoy the diversity of the job. I rarely go to bed at night knowing what I’m going to do the next day,” he said.

Stone State Park is unique among parks. One minute you can stand in downtown Sioux City, surrounded by concrete and traffic. A few minutes later, you can sit in the middle of the park, listening to birds and watching deer walk through the brush.

The location next to Sioux City presents all kinds of opportunities for the park, Dykstra said. There are thousands of potential visitors a short drive away that just need to be convinced to visit. Volunteers also are in good supply.

“One thing that’s been great is the amount of community support you get being next to a population center like this,” Dykstra said.

There’s still much to learn, both about the park and his position, he said. Being a park ranger is a lifestyle that leaves one on duty almost around the clock.

But as long as there are turkeys gobbling in the trees and deer walking past his house, Dykstra will feel right at home.

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