WATERLOO | The natural beauty of Sans Souci Island was summed up by a Waterloo Daily Courier writer in 1897:
"It is splendidly shaded with noble trees, is high, with graceful banks sloping to the water's edge, and in some European country would be an ideal domain where a member of the nobility might rear his castles and ensconce himself from the hurried rush and worry of the world to dream the hours away in blissful gladness."
More than 118 years later, Waterloo Leisure Services crews are working on a parking area to make it easier for today's residents to spend some time and enjoy the beauty of the Cedar River island themselves.
Owned for a century by a private homeowners association, the city acquired Sans Souci through a Federal Emergency Management Agency property buyout following a record 2008 flood that severely damaged the remaining 20 homes.
While the property has been owned by the city and open for public use since 2011, the main entrance has remained gated to prevent vehicles from accessing the heavily wooded areas to dump garbage or engage in other illegal activities.
"It's public property that has been available for people to bike in or walk in," said Leisure Services Director Paul Huting. "There just wasn't a parking area."
But the city is nearly finished installing wooden posts, or bollards, to keep traffic on the former Sans Souci Drive and out of the remote upstream areas of the island. Officials hope the work will allow Sans Souci to open for parking within a week.
"The plan is to keep it mowed for hiking and fishing, basically so it can be used much like people use the Katoski Greenbelt," Huting said. "There is a picnic shelter there, which was left by the former Sans Souci Association, and we'll probably add a couple of garbage cans."
Signs will be erected telling people to keep cars off the grass and to limit use to normal 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. park hours.
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Former Sans Souci resident Jim Hackett sees the change as a blessing and a possible curse.
"It's good that people who want to fish over or visit can have a place to park," Hackett said. "That is one of the neatest areas along a river in Iowa.
"The negative part is that there's probably going to be vandalism and dumping," he added. "People should know that every house on Riverside Drive (across the Cedar) is going to be watching that island."
Hackett, who moved to Riverside Drive after the flood buyout, still feels a strong attachment to his former neighborhood and has been volunteering to trim weeds and keep the area presentable.
While the city has not yet started work on a master plan for Sans Souci, Hackett is among those who would like to see it used for long-term camping. Campers could hitch boats in the Cedar near their campsite.
"I guarantee you the spots would be full all the time," Hackett said.
- In related news, a booklet on the history and architecture of Sans Souci has been completed and printed by a historic preservation consultant. The publication was required as part of the federal funding received for the buyout process.
"Without a Care: The History and Architecture of Sans Souci" should be available for purchase soon once the city works out details on the price and where it will be sold.