For 23 years Tracy Spry has served as the face of Lake Red Rock near Pella, Iowa, making this
huge Corps of Engineers resource both fun and educational for thousands of visitors. For her
continuing superb service to the Corps, she has now earned the Hiram M. Chittenden award for
Excellence in Interpretation for 2015.
In 2014 alone, she presented more than 100 interpretive programs on numerous topics, and
also took the time to mentor a college intern who in turn presented 50 programs. Between the
two, they reached more than 3,500 participants.
Interpretation is a vital public service that helps the Corps tell its story to its many
stakeholders. Ms. Spry uses her fertile imagination to help illustrate for the public the way the
Corps implements its three-part mission at Red Rock: Flood Risk Management, Recreation
and Environmental Stewardship. She also has created dozens of programs and features at
Red Rock where visitors can get some exercise, fresh air and have some fun.
Tracys efforts cover the waterfront, so to speak, and portray an individual who is deeply
involved in her community. She creates programs that bring people to the lake and engage
In 2014 she teamed up with the Red Rock Lake Association, 3M Corporation and Vermeer
Manufacturing to design and build a natural playscape that serves as an interpretive hub for
Lake Red Rock. The environment encourages kids to take on a balance course, conduct an
archaeological dig, plunge through a willow tunnel, investigate the natural world along a
wooded nature trail, beat out a rhythm on drum stumps and create their own driftwood art to
add a wild, artistic touch to the landscape. The playscape provides a wonderful interactive
environment for learning about nature and encourages visitors to further explore the lakes
woods, prairies and savannas.
She worked with faculty and staff from nearby Central College to partner up with her for a
number of innovative programs. She assisted with coordination of a STEM training for nearby
K-8 public school teachers, highlighting the ways the lake can serve a role in this important
educational arena. Tracy also partners with area professors and teachers to reach out to
nearby organizations that serve the needs of needy populations, including Burmese immigrants
in Des Moines, to introduce them to the pleasures of outdoor recreation.
Tracy is also a big friend to the Monarch butterflies who visit the area in the late summer or
early fall during their epic migration. She partnered with nearby Master Gardeners through the
extension service to modify one of the lakes gardens to include Monarch-friendly milkweed
and other nectar-producing plant species. She utilized milkweed seedlings provided from the
US Fish & Wildlife Service and MonarchWatch.org. In September as the years last generation
of Monarchs migrates south to its winter home in the mountains of Mexico, Tracy leads
volunteers with a Monarch-tagging program. Participants catch Monarchs and place tiny
numbered adhesive tags on their wings. The tagged monarchs, if recaptured at some point
along their journey, may assist researchers in tracking the butterflies routes as they make their
Like a favorite aunt, Tracy maintains all the necessary equipment to keep her visitors
entertained and engaged. Her toy chest includes butterfly nets, GPS units, disc golf sets, pond
study equipment, kayaks and canoes, snowshoes, life jackets, animal track packs to make
plaster casts, bug and bird exploration packs.
Tracy invites visitors to participate in numerous programs including Snake Lunchtime,
Creatures of the Night hikes, Kids Craft Day, Outdoor Adventurers camps,and many others.
She also recruits "Junior Rangers" to participate in a day-long program that introduces 8-10
year olds to the kinds of work a Corps ranger does. They study wildlife at an area wetland,
pick up litter, tour the dam and learn about water safety.
For years, Tracy has presented one of the lakes stories about its early history: the tale
about the town of Red Rock, which was once located along the shore of the Des Moines River
before Lake Red Rock came into existence. Tracy shares stories about the old frontier town
and describes the lives of some of the early pioneers that called the area home. Older
residents of the now-underwater town often attend the presentation and stay late to recount
their own stories.
She also takes the lakes story on the road. She visits assisted-living facilities and brings some
of the lakes treasures to show its residents. She also sets up a booth at the famous Iowa
State Fair and other travel and tourism venues, and she meets with students at local schools
NPR's Alex Chadwick interviewed Tracy in early 2002 when she observed more than