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.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared a reprieve Monday for Rod Rosenstein, saying he has no plans to fire his deputy attorney general whose future was the source of intense speculation for two weeks.
"I'm not making any changes," Trump told reporters as he returned to the White House after traveling with Rosenstein to an international police chiefs' conference in Florida. "We just had a very nice talk. We actually get along."
The flight provided an opportunity for their most extensive conversation since news reports last month that Rosenstein discussed the possibilities in early 2017 of secretly recording Trump to expose chaos in the White House and invoking constitutional provisions to have him removed from office.
Those reports triggered an avalanche of speculation about the future of Rosenstein — and also the special counsel's investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. The deputy attorney general appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to his special counsel post and closely oversees his work.
Trump said earlier in the day that he had "a very good relationship" with Rosenstein and was eager to speak with him aboard Air Force One on the flight to Florida. They did talk, for about 45 minutes, but not alone, a White House spokesman said. The subjects: violent crime in Chicago, support for local law enforcement, border security, the conference they were flying to and "general DOJ business," spokesman Hogan Gidley said without elaboration.
"I didn't know Rod before, but I've gotten to know him," Trump said at the White House earlier.
The Justice Department has denied that Rosenstein proposed invoking the 25th Amendment of the Constitution, which would involve the Cabinet and vice president agreeing to remove him. And the remark about secretly recording the president was meant sarcastically, the department said.
Even so, Rosenstein told White House officials he was willing to resign and arrived at the White House a week and a half ago with the expectation that he would be fired. He met in person with White House chief of staff John Kelly and spoke by phone with Trump during a tumultuous day that ended with him still in his job.
Rosenstein and Trump were expected to meet at the White House days later, but that meeting was put off so that the president could focus on the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Trump previously said he would prefer not to fire the Justice Department's No. 2 official and that Rosenstein told him he did not say the remarks attributed to him. Advisers also cautioned Trump against doing anything dramatic in the weeks before the midterm elections next month.
Kelly was present for Monday's conversation between Rosenstein and Trump, the White House said, as was Rosenstein's top deputy at the Justice Department, Ed O'Callaghan.
The speculation over Rosenstein's future concerned Democrats, who feared that a dismissal could lead to Trump curtailing Mueller's probe. Though Trump at times criticized his deputy attorney general, he reserved his sharpest verbal attacks for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the Russia investigation in March 2017 because of his own earlier involvement with the Trump campaign.
Both men will likely see their futures re-evaluated after the elections, Trump advisers have said.
Besides the meeting with Trump, Rosenstein also agreed to a private meeting with House Republicans who want to question him about his reported statements on the president.
WHITECLAY, Neb. — Activists are calling for more reforms in a tiny Nebraska town even after a state Supreme Court decision closed the community's beer stores that sold millions of cans of beer each year despite an alcohol ban on a nearby Native American reservation.
A group of activists gathered last week to discuss more action needed in and around Whiteclay, which borders South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Despite the town having only nine residents, its four beer stores sold the equivalent of about 3.5 million cans annually.
Whiteclay has been criticized for lacking adequate law enforcement and serving for decades as a remote spot for people to panhandle, loiter, fight and pass out on sidewalks.
Meanwhile, the nearby reservation has faced a litany of alcohol-related problems, such as high rates of alcoholism and fetal-alcohol syndrome.
Winnebago activist Frank LaMere said that if alcohol is still finding its way to the reservation, "we're going to hold people's feet to the fire, and that includes the Nebraska State Patrol, the state of Nebraska, the state of South Dakota and the Oglala Sioux Tribe."
Activists are working with the Nebraska State Patrol to fight possible bootlegging in neighboring cities and to form a cold-case unit to investigate mysterious deaths. They're urging lawmakers to provide more funding to enforcement efforts to curb bootlegging, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.
The activists are also planning to create a clinic for the Pine Ridge area to diagnose and treat fetal-alcohol syndrome.
Whiteclay still faces issues but has become safer than it was before the state high court's ruling, said John Maisch, a former alcohol regulator who produced a documentary on Whiteclay and fought to close the town's beer stores.
"To my knowledge, there have been no reports of any assaults or rapes or murders on the streets of Whiteclay," he said. "So, it's unequivocally better in Whiteclay now than it was when the stores were open."
But Maisch said that reform efforts aren't over just because the town's beer stores are closed.
"I think that we have a continuing obligation to address the harm that was caused by the beer stores when they were open," he said.
SIOUX CITY -- The Sioux City Council awarded a contract to L&L Builders Monday to renovate the Convention Center after rebidding the project, which initially came in nearly $1 million over budget.
The contract, which passed by a 5-0 vote, involves renovating 7,500 square feet of current Convention Center space into a ballroom for events and construction of a new 7,260-square-foot "pre-function" space that will attach to a five-story Courtyard by Marriott Hotel being built next door. The $2,900,100 contract with L&L Builders of Sioux City also includes keeping the Convention Center's storage space and upgrading the building's exterior to brick.
The Convention Center renovation is the second of two city-funded projects, both of which combined cost over $2 million more than expected, that will support the new downtown Courtyard by Marriott hotel being constructed by a private developer in the former Convention Center parking lot.
A $3.7 million bid for the first project, construction of a two-story parking deck at Fifth and Virginia streets to accommodate hotel guests, has already been accepted and came in approximately $1.2 million more than the architect's original estimate.
Earlier this year, the Wisconsin-based engineering firm Ramaker Professional Services estimated that bids for the Convention Center renovation project would come in around $2,067,493. But in July, contractors submitted significantly larger bids due to higher-than-expected costs for materials, labor and specialty items.
In August, the council rejected initial bids for the Convention Center project and instructed that new construction documents be prepared, when the lowest bid from a contractor came in nearly $1 million over budget.
"I think this is a sad, sad situation. I think we got taken advantage of by a contractor here and an engineer. That is really is upsetting to me," Mayor Bob Scott said before the vote. He later clarified that he was referring to Kinseth Hospitality Inc. and its engineer. "But, do you not do the project and make it worse? To me that doesn't seem to serve the public purpose very well either."
Sioux City is required to complete the work on both projects through a development agreement with Kinseth Hospitality Inc., the North Liberty, Iowa-based company constructing the five-story downtown hotel.
"That's just not acceptable. Nobody misses a job that far," Scott said. "Now, we're in a situation where if we don't do the project, they'll blame us when they're not successful in the convention business. It has nothing to do with our local contractors, because five of you or so bid the job all within pennies of each other. That tells you what the market really is on this work, not what the engineer thought it was."
The council also voted as part of its consent agenda to approve a contract with Wegher Construction Co. of North Sioux City to renovate the Morningside branch library.
In the fall of 2016, Sioux City-based FEH Design presented a facilities study to the Library Board of Trustees and the council that outlined a possible $1.65 million in facility upgrades. The study deemed $1.2 million of those fixes as "critical," among them heating and cooling, plumbing and power issues.
The city received five bids for the project, which includes roof and boiler system replacement, a complete interior remodel with new carpet, windows and LED lighting, as well as plumbing updates to make the restrooms ADA-compliant. Wegher Construction submitted the lowest bid, $1,036,490, which is below the engineer's estimate of $1,274,080.
Library director Helen Rigdon told the council that the low project bids allow for the expansion of the library's children's area.
"We can expand the children's area and add some interactive and sensory tools for the children," she said.
Councilwoman Rhonda Capron said she received a few phone calls from residents regarding the vote. She said one of the callers was "very excited" about the library's pending improvements.
"She was very appreciative and looking forward to the new renovations," she said.
Construction is expected to be completed on or before April 26.