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Park held dedication ceremony for new bird blind

BY BENJAMIN MARKS | OCTOBER 06, 2014 5:00 AM

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For some Johnson County residents, the sounds and sights of Iowa birds just got a little easier to experience.

On Sunday, the Johnson County Conservation Board, in partnership with the Iowa City Bird Club, dedicated the Kent Park Bird Blind with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and speeches.

“We’ve supported all wildlife, but birds are a big component to that,” Conservation Board President Larry Wilson said.

“The thing about birds is that they can be colorful, and I think it’s easier to get people interested in birds than some other animals like shrews, which take a little more understanding to appreciate,” he said. “They’re like a gateway animal.”

Traditionally found in parks and forests, bird blinds are usually small, three sided wooden structures with holes cut in one wall for viewing birds.

The walls act as a dampener for sound and movement, which may otherwise frighten the birds away, as well as a wind block for chillier days.

The Kent Park bird blind however, goes far above that.

With a price tag of around $27,000 — approximately $25,000 of which was donated — the Kent bird blind is the Cadillac of blinds, said bird club member and donor Rick Hollis.

“They built it right,” he said. “One of the things that was important to all of us was that it would be accessible to anyone and open all the time.”

The blind is directly off the Kent Park’s Conservation Education Center parking lot, with a large wheelchair accessible sidewalk leading down to it.

A large building, it has heavy walls and solid doors to keep out the cold Iowa wind.

“One thing we saw with other bird blinds is they didn’t have the breadth of the audience we wanted,” Conservation Board program manager Brad Freidhof said. “We wanted to have retiree who maybe get colder faster or aren’t as sure-footed. We wanted to be able to accommodate larger groups.”

One such large group is school kids, thousands of whom Hollis said come through every year in the spring and fall, sometimes in five busloads at a time.

While the outside of the blind may remind viewers of a rustic log cabin, the inside is a plain and functional black. The viewing wall is peppered with windows of all levels and sizes, along with solid wooden shutters to close them when not in use, another layer of protection against the cold.

In addition, Freidhof said, the blind is outfitted with electricity to power anything a birder could need, from a heater to a smart phone.

However, the upgrades to the blind are not yet finished.

While the clearing in front of the blind is currently bare, as winter approaches, it will soon be filled with bird-attracting plants, trees, and berry bushes.

After the plants have settled, Freidhof said, a complex feeding system will be installed made up of over a dozen different feeders from ground-based ones to raised platforms and hanging cables.

The inside of the blind is currently empty, but it will eventually be outfitted with benches and educational birding materials.

Hollis said the community support for the blind has been huge, and he was blown away by how easy it was to find donors.

Hollis said one night when the idea to build a blind was brought up in a bird club meeting, two people approached him, basically with money in their hand.

“Then somebody else came, and somebody else came, and somebody else came—and we had enough to do it,” he said.

Kent County Park is named after F.W. Kent, a famous photographer, avid bird watcher, and former student of the University of Iowa.

Members of the Kent family were in attendance for the ribbon cutting, and in honor of Fred Kent’s son, Chuck Kent, the family donated to support the blind’s construction.

“We wanted to do something out here in Kent Park in memory of our father,” said Ann Hitchcock, the granddaughter of the park’s eponym. “And this was the perfect opportunity as this fit in with our grandfather and our father.”


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