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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.
SWISS VALLEY. Located south of Dubuque, Swiss Valley was a farming area in pioneer days. Its steep hills and fertile valley reminded residents from Switzerland of their native land and so the area was named.
A man named Googleman staked out, but did not live long enough, to record the location of a mining claim in the area. His farm was purchased by two families, the Baehlers and the Quades. The private cemetery of the Quades could be seen in 2015 along the northern side of Swiss Valley Road. (1)
In 1839 a grist mill was established by Glade and Etting upstream from the Baehler farm located near the modern entrance to Swiss Valley Park. Fred Baehler married Caroline Quade so all the residents in the valley were related. (2)
On July 4, 1876 water from a large rainstorm collected in the valley and began its way toward Rockdale causing a great flood with loss of life. A Confederate spy named John Beall attempted to hide in Swiss Valley during the CIVIL WAR, but was reported by a local farmer and caught. Tried by a military court, he was executed by firing squad. During PROHIBITION an illegal still was operated on the Baehler farm. Upstream from the cabin was a water-drive mill near the later location of the nature center. On the only road to the mill was a brothel. (3)
Swiss Valley became the site of SWISS VALLEY NATURE PRESERVE and the adjacent Swiss Valley Park covers 500 acres. The Preserve's Nature Center, a restored barn, was formally dedicated on April 25, 1976. At the time of the dedication, preserve records indicated the presence in the area of 241 species of birds, 47 species of mammals, and 33 species of reptiles. (4) Bob WALTON served many years as the preserve's naturalist.
Tri-state area campers in 1985 were introduced to Swiss Valley Park's 37 graveled camping spaces of which 31 offered electrical hook-ups with showers and restroom facilities nearby. Additional space was provided for those wishing to pitch a tent and the grounds were made accessible for the handicapped. The land was located on ten acres of former farmland at the lower end of the park. The area was part of thirty acres purchased by the Dubuque County Conservation Board in 1983 with federal money. (5)
The experiences at Swiss Valley in recent decades focused on education. Trails were groomed for cross-country skiing and winter ecology hikes to observe winter adaptations in plants and animals were held. Summer experiences included presentations on such animals as the flying squirrels. The Kids in Nature series involved small children and their parents in opportunities to hike, read books, and participate in hands-on-activities. The Center hosted Iowa Department of Natural Resources staff discussing improvement of the overwintering fish habitat to aid in the survival of such fish as crappie and bass. Such concern in 2003 led summer interns for the Dubuque County Conservation Board to construct underwater fish shelters for trout. Pheasants Forever Iowa DNR and the Dubuque County Conservation Board used the facilities in 2015 to host a "Becoming an Iowa Outdoor Woman Workshop (BOW).
For many years, upper elementary classes visited the nature center for instruction in plants and animals they might encounter during the day and then participated in hikes led by Bob WALTON over CATFISH CREEK into the hills. Stream studies were carried out and trout fishing was experienced.
In 2002 the nature center that had served elementary classes and other for years was renovated. Construction was begun on a 7,500-square-foot addition that would provide an auditorium, classroom and display areas. (6)
Free nature center programs have annually been offered. As an example, in 1985, stream studies with all ages welcome involved digging into the Upper Catfish Creek "to discover a new world under the water." An evening class involved a naturalist answering questions about bats, coyotes, and "all other creatures that go bump in the night." In August a program entitled "Six-and Eight-Legged Creatures" involved all ages in learning about insects and spiders and hiking to find and classify different insects. (7) Natural Easter egg dying was offered in April, 2011. A wildflower workday on August 16, 2012 involved volunteers identifying and removing invasive species of plants and then taking a hike to find blooming wildflowers.
In 2013 teachers enrolled in Loras College's Communities of Exemplary Practice implemented learning in workshops with actual students. The seven day workshop taught best practices in integrating science and math with appropriate technology for middle school teachers. Teachers trained as IOWATER volunteers in biological and chemical sampling by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources taught what they had learned to other middle school students. (8)
Volunteer efforts at Swiss Valley in April, 2018 cleared space of brush. The site was then to be planted with native prairie grass and flowers to replace the woody vegetation and invasive plants. The activity was part of the annual DUBUQUE DAYS OF CARING. (9)
1. Barker, Richard A. Dubuque's Haunted History, Boulder, Colorado: Trails Books, 2011, p. 152
4. Knee, Bill, "Center Displays Swiss Valley's Flora, Fauna," Telegraph Herald, April 25, 1976, p. 11
5. Demarest, Dusti, "Swiss Valley Now Features Home Amenities," Telegraph Herald, May 19, 1985, p. 40
6. "Chronology--2002," Telegraph Herald, January 1, 2003, p. 50
7. "Nature Center Offers Free Summer Programs," Telegraph Herald, July 7, 2008, p. 18
8. Becker, Stacey, "Teachers Go With the Flow," Telegraph Herald, July 30, 2013, p. 1
9. Hinga, Allie, "1,300 Pitch in at Dubuque Days of Caring," Telegraph Herald, April 28, 2018, p. 1