Belva Deer Park Bustles With Activity

The sixth-grade campers from the 'orange' group helped Wes Gould show off the furs provided by the DNR.

Belva Deer Park in Keokuk County was a busy place this weekend. Before the Boy Scouts took over Saturday night for a campout, there had already been lots of events happening.

            The Keokuk county Democrats hosted the First Annual Lake Belva Deer cruise, from 10:00 a.m. -2 p.m. on Saturday, September 22. After the participants paddled in kayaks around the lake, they fired up the grill for a BBQ lunch.

            Meanwhile, at the Isaac Walton League, 36 students attended a Hunter’s Safety Course. Wes Gould, said the Department of Natural Resources was happy to see so many participants in the class this year.

            “On behalf of the DNR, we’d like to express our appreciation for this year’s group of instructors. Between them they represent 80-90 years of experience in instructing,” Gould said.

            Among the group of instructors was: Jeremy Ollar, Jake Sanders, John Kerr, Matt Welter, Bill Reess, Scott Leather, and Bryan Lee. The class is now only offered in the fall in Keokuk County, but is offered other places in the spring. For information on class schedules and locations, visit the DNR website at  

             Some of the students in the Hunter’s Safety Course had the good fortune of spending the night before class at Lake Belva Deer. Friday night, September 21, was the 40th Annual Keokuk County Sixth Grade Campout. Started by former teacher Lorena Hammes, who passed away this past year, the campout has become a long-standing tradition for the youth of the county.

            Those who helped carry on this year’s local rite-of-passage included representatives from the Department of Natural Resources, parents, grandparents, Sixth-Grade Campout veterans, and Belva Deer Park officials, Curtis "Pie" Reighard, Executive Director, Stratton Bond, Ranger Naturalist, and Brian Ulin, Maintenance Ranger.

            Once everyone had made their camp and sack lunch supper was munched down, the campers took a hike, stopping at stations where volunteers and DNR representatives waited to teach them something about outdoor recreation. Kevin Anderson from the DNR gave a short presentation on trapping. He showed several types of traps and explained how they work for different types of animals. He also made an example of an animal trail, and demonstrated the art of setting a trap.

            At another station DNR representative Wes Gould was waiting to show the campers various types of furs. He showed the difference in size between a mountain lion and a coyote, and showed how to tell an animal by the shape and size of their paw pads. While he shared the furs, he also shared some knowledge about each species, like the muskrat for example. “The muskrat is one of the ways we can tell the health of an ecosystem. If they start dying, then there’s usually a problem with the water.” During his talk, Gould passed the pelts around so the kids could feel the difference between them.

            There was also an archery station, ran by Jason Gritsch. Here the kids learned about caring for a bow and how to handle one properly. They were then allowed to take some shots at a hay bail and a target deer. Another shooting station gave the kids some hands-on experience aiming an aero soft rifle. This station had a few volunteers so each shooter had someone guiding them. Bryan Lee, Bill Reess, and Scott Leathers lined up the kids in three rows and helped them aim and fire at the target.

            Volunteers Dennis Monroe and Steve Wehr, who have helped with the campout for about 20 years, ran the fishing station. Monroe said, “When I hear a kid say they have never caught a fish before, I try to make sure that happens for them.” Wehr, like many of the other volunteers expressed his gratitude for Belva Deer Park. “We are very lucky to have this place for events like this.”


To find out what happened next on the hike, check out the September 26th issue of The Keota Eagle.