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Conservation Director Mark Shoemaker Announces Retirement After 31 Years of Service

Posted on 3/20/2024
by Craig Carlsen, Pottawattamie County Public Relations Manager
Following 31 years of service, Mark Shoemaker, Executive Director of Pottawattamie County Conservation has announced he will retire on August 30, 2024.

Shoemaker made the announcement at the Board of Supervisors meeting on March 19th. He began his career with the County in 1993 and has been in a leadership role for Pottawattamie County Conservation since 1997.

Mark Shoemaker, Executive Director of Pottawattamie County Conservation

“It’s time for me to focus on my family and my own well-being as I move into this next chapter of my life,” said Shoemaker. “I know there are extremely qualified individuals that will carry on the vision and operations of Pottawattamie County Conservation, and that makes the transition a little easier.”

Under his guidance, Conservation has flourished. At the time of his arrival, department staff consisted of just seven employees. These days, Conservation oversees vastly expanded efforts with twenty full-time staff members and approximately 160 seasonal employees. 

“As we’ve broadened our reach in land preservation, educational programs, and outdoor recreation, our staff has grown,” said Shoemaker. “That evolution is in large part due to the support of our Conservation Board, the Board of Supervisors, and the citizens of our county, and I’m grateful for that.”

The surge in popularity of Hitchcock Nature Center, and the future of Mt. Crescent, are among the items mentioned when asked about his proudest achievements. Retaining valuable employees, revered regionally for their expertise, tops his list.

“It has been a pleasure to work with a truly incredible staff throughout my career,” said Shoemaker. “I would and will do anything in the line of duty and personally for these people that I have come to know as family.”

Outside his work for Pottawattamie County, Shoemaker has been a fixture in the community, serving area organizations and agencies in a variety of roles. Amongst them, he has served on the Council Bluffs Convention & Visitors Bureau Board of Directors since 2016, being appointed Vice President in 2020, before becoming Board President in 2022. 

County leaders say Shoemaker’s impact will long be felt, not just due to his years of service, but because of his authentic personality.

“The campground improvements at Botna Bend, Arrowhead, and Olde Town Park that have been implemented under his watchful eye, are just a few of the great things I’ve been able to witness in my year and half with the County,” said Susan Miller, Chairperson for the Board of Supervisors. “The significance of merging Hitchcock Nature Center and Mt. Crescent into a Western Iowa destination has been possible because of a team of caring and gifted individuals with great leadership.”

Conservation staff and board members congratulate Mark on his retirement at the board of supervisors announcement on March 19th, 2024.
Pottawattamie County Conservation staff and board members congratulated Mark on his retirement at the board of supervisors meeting announcement on March 19th.

Conservation Board members say Shoemaker’s legacy is one that will continue to inspire for years to come. Below is a statement read by Pottawattamie County Conservation Board President Eric Hough at the announcement:

"Members of the board,

It is with a heavy heart that I sit before you today. A true steward of nature, a visionary leader, and our dear friend Mark Shoemaker submitted his retirement announcement as Executive Director of Pottawattamie County Conservation to the Conservation Board last Tuesday. With great pause, we accepted it. For almost 30 years, Mark has been at the helm of our organization, guiding us with wisdom, passion, and an unwavering commitment to environmental preservation.

Mark's journey with Pottawattamie County Conservation is woven into the very fabric of our organization's history as he has been the leader for almost half of it. From the moment he stepped through our doors as an intern, his dedication to protecting and enhancing our natural resources has been unparalleled. Under his guidance, our conservation efforts have flourished, and our natural areas have expanded through acquisitions such as Wheeler Grove, additional property at Hitchcock Nature Center, and Mt. Crescent Ski Hill, leaving a lasting legacy for future generations to enjoy. The cabins he spearheaded at Arrowhead have raised the bar statewide.

Throughout his tenure, Mark has been a beacon of leadership and inspiration to all who have had the privilege of working alongside him. His innovative approaches, strategic foresight, exceptional grant writing, and steadfast determination have propelled our organization to new heights, earning him the admiration and respect of peers, partners, and stakeholders all across the great state of Iowa.

Beyond his professional accomplishments, Mark's impact on our organization can be felt on a personal level. He has not only been a mentor and a leader but also a trusted friend and confidant to many, including myself. His genuine kindness, humility, and approachability have created a culture of collaboration and camaraderie that has enhanced the lives of all who have had the pleasure of working with and knowing him.

As Mark embarks on the next chapter of his life, we are filled with mixed emotions. We will miss his leadership, his expertise, and his relentless dedication, but we take solace in knowing that what he leaves behind will endure long after his departure. Mark's passion for conservation and his commitment to protecting our natural heritage will continue to inspire us as we carry forward the work that he has so selflessly championed.

On behalf of the entire Pottawattamie County Conservation board, I want to express our deepest gratitude for Mark’s years of dedicated service, exemplary leadership, and unwavering commitment to our mission. His impact on our organization and our county is immeasurable, and his presence will be sorely missed.

Thank you, Mark, for your dedication and commitment to conservation, your invaluable contributions to our county, and the lasting impact you have had on each and every one of us."

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