Mark River (right), former director of Carroll County Conservation, talks with the new director, Jason Christensen, outside the Swan Lake Conservation and Education Center.
Mark River (right), former director of Carroll County Conservation, talks with the new director, Jason Christensen, outside the Swan Lake Conservation and Education Center.
July 1, 2013



Jason Christensen, a big, imposing, outdoorsy man, plans to focus on the little things in his new role as director of conservation for Carroll County, a job he started today.

Is the park grass mowed?

Are the trees trimmed?

Do the buildings look nice?

Is the staff friendly?

Christensen, 38, said those questions are key to give a long-lasting, good impression to the people who visit the county's parks.

"People have a bad experience in your parks once, that can be detrimental, and that can travel a long ways," Christensen said.

Christensen, a native of Manilla, has worked for the conservation department for 13 years as its river ranger. He lives with his wife Jen and their daughter Cassidy, 12, and son Garrett, 9, in the North Raccoon River valley northeast of Glidden.

The family drives its camper to Iowa parks on the weekends and goes fishing.

Jason and Jen were high-school sweethearts who lived apart in college - she went to the University of Iowa in Iowa City, and he went to Iowa State University in Ames.

While still in college, Jason Christensen interned for Carroll's conservation department and worked for a year at Lake Red Rock near Pella, where he had some park ranger duties.

Rangers carry weapons and enforce laws and hunting and fishing regulations. They mow grass and do repair work and live in county-owned houses in or near parks.

Christensen graduated from Iowa State with a bachelor's degree in fisheries and wildlife biology in 1998, and two years later was hired for the Carroll ranger job. Jen is a Kuemper Catholic Schools nurse.

Christensen was the unanimous choice of the five-member Carroll Conservation Board to replace Mark River, who led the department for nine years before leaving last week to pursue a doctorate at Duke University in North Carolina.

"Coming from the inside, he should be able to build our team," board member Kenny Snyder said of Christensen. "I have no doubt in my mind that a year from today our team will be stronger than it ever was."

Christensen oversees a staff of five. Snyder said the board will likely hire someone to take over part of Christensen's former duties as ranger.

Christensen hopes to be a hands-on boss and help with some of the projects his staff undertakes.

"Being a park ranger, I did a lot of the construction-type work," he said. "I built bathrooms, helped with gun range. I'll have a lot of office and administrative work to do, but I hope to get out a little bit. ... I'm not afraid to get out of the office."

Mark Beardmore, chairman of the Carroll County Board of Supervisors, said he dealt with Christensen in union negotiations last year, "and I thought he was very professional and advocated well" for his peers.

"I expect him to continue that professionalism in his new job," Beardmore said.

Christensen's office is at the Conservation Education Center at Swan Lake State Park just southeast of Carroll. He can be reached by telephone at (712) 792-4614.