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Thursday, September 30, 2010

$ 9.2 Million Lake Darling Restoration Project - Public Meeting

Lake Darling State Park will be one of the premier parks in the state after a 13 year, $9.2 million renovation that has changed the face of the 60 year old area and should protect it for years to come. Unfortunately, the final leg of the project is taking longer than anticipated.

"Everyone involved would like this project to be moving more quickly," said area fisheries biologist Chad Dolan, who serves as spokesperson for the lake renovation portion of the project, which has encountered a number of delays that has pushed the completion time into fall 2012.

He said delays have come from a number of different areas, including the discovery of an archaeologically significant site in the dam area that requires further exploration before the work could resume. There were also delays in getting necessary permits and engineering designs for some important lake structures.

Dolan will be part of a panel that will be discussing the entire Lake Darling restoration project, on October 6, at the Lake Darling State Park Lodge. The agenda includes a meal from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., followed by the meeting from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.

There are a lot of partners and supporters who have helped this project along the way and some are concerned with the delays. If the project could not go forward, why did the DNR drain the lake when it did?

"Mainly it was necessary to explore potential archaeological sites along the shoreline. We also had to draw the lake down because we could not be sitting on a full lake and have the project ready to go," Dolan said.

"We have a lot of very interested people who love this park and they would like this project to be further along. We would too. When discussing the initial timeline, in hindsight, we were too optimistic. This is a huge project and it takes time," he said.

The lake project includes installing two silt dams - one in the campground arm and one in the upper arm - that will protect water quality and collect silt before it enters the lake. Dolan said it is necessary that these two dams are designed and ready to go in the spring.

The dam will be raised two feet, increasing the size of the lake to 303 acres. An additional 4,400 cubic yards of rock mounds and reefs will be installed for fish habitat. The shoreline will be protected in areas that staff could not reach with the lake filled. But the main part of the lake project and one of the most expensive is the removal of 300,000 cubic yards of sediment from the lake bed.

Other work includes creating deeper water near shore and installing a universally accessible fishing pier.

Dolan said the lake has been battling poor water quality since shortly after it was built. In fact, over the past 30 years, the lake water looked more like chocolate milk. "The lake was good for catfishing, but not much else," Dolan said.

Once the work is completed and the dam closed, the lake will be stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, red ear sunfish, channel catfish and black crappies.

Campground work to start in 2011

Plans for the Lake Darling campground include installing new water lines and building a shower house, increasing the electrical service to 50 amps, adding a number of sites offering water and sewer connections, leveling the camping pads, adding new fire rigs and installing a new dump station.

"We will lose a few campsites, but the upgrades will offer higher quality campsites over high quantity," said Tom Basten, state parks supervisor for southeast Iowa. "The lodge, beach shelter and new playground have been done for a few years. We will be installing a universally accessible fishing bridge connecting the two campgrounds, a new boat ramp just prior to entering the campground.

"Once we are done, this park will be a top draw for fishing and camping in southeast Iowa," Basten said.
Visit the Friends of Lake Darling Web Page

View Larger Map

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


A long awaited recreation facility development is now ready for park visitors. The first new campground in an Iowa state park in seven years will open at the Volga River State Recreation Area Saturday during a ribbon cutting. The ceremony is scheduled from 1:30 to 2:30 at the Meyer shelter on the lake shore/boat ramp parking lot.

The new campground was funded by a $1.5 million special appropriation of the Iowa Legislature, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Wenthe, Sen. Brian Schoenjahn, Rep. Roger Thomas, and Sen. Bill Heckroth. The campground is at the north end of Volga River with a view of the lake off in the distance.

The project began when roads for a future campground were built in 2005. In 2008, the legislature approved $750,000 to develop the campground. In 2009, an additional $750,000 was provided. Work began in July 2009 and the project will be concluded on Saturday.

“This campground was built from scratch on an old crop field,” said Scot Michelson, park ranger at Volga River. “We planted trees in the area years ago that are now 12 to 15 years old and will give this new campground a more mature feel.”

The 42 campsites all have electricity and water, and 34 have sewer connections as well. Each campsite has a fire ring and picnic table. The camp pads are level, and 11 are paved, pull through sites. There is a new shower building and non modern restroom in the new campground. In addition to the campground, a new modern restroom with drinking water is available on the lake shore at the boat ramp.

Volga River is a recreation area, which means hunting is allowed.

“We do get our share of deer hunters for the early muzzleloader and bow seasons, but the shower building will be closed for winterization by mid October. We will have the electricity on until snowfall when we will close the campground for winter due to the concern for snow and ice on the steep campground access road,” Michelson said.

Volga River has a primitive campground at the south end, which does not offer electricity, showers or flush toilets.

John Maehl, district supervisor Iowa state parks in northeast Iowa, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 563-920-1400 or Scot Michelson, park ranger, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Volga River State Recreation Area, at 563-920-3944.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Grand Opening of the E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center

The public is invited to the Grand Opening of the expanded E. B. Lyons Interpretive Center at the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area on Sunday, September 26 from 2 to 5 p.m. The Center is located at 8991 Bellevue Heights Road in Dubuque. The event is sponsored by the Friends of the Mines of Spain and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The $1.8 million expansion doubled the size of the center, adding an auditorium for programs and events, a biology lab for school programs, a library for reference and educational materials, and new exhibits interpreting the science and history of the region.

The free family oriented event will also include informational booths, new gift shop, live music, family fun and educational activities. A presentation about the project will be given at 2 p.m. For more information, call 563.566.0620 or go to

Mines of Spain Recreation Area and E.B.Lyons Interpretive and Nature Center are located on 1380 acres of beautiful wooded and prairie land just south of Dubuque, IA. The area has been designated as a National Historic Landmark and includes Julien Dubuque's Monument at a point just above where Catfish Creek meets the Mississippi.

One of Iowa's "Watchable Wildlife Areas," it features the E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center which serves as the Visitor Center and the Park Office.Come see the Horseshoe Bluff Interpretive Trail, the 15 acre wetland, creeks, forest, prairies, cropland, meadows and the Mississippi River from a bald eagle's view.

Picnic with us, go for a hike or cross country ski on one of our many trails and maybe you will capture a glimpse of a song bird, bobcat, red-shouldered hawk, flying squirrel, white-tailed deer, wild turkey or various butterflies along the Mississippi River Bluffland.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Children, Families Invited to Outdoor Expo

Children, Families Invited to Outdoor Expo

DES MOINES - An Iowa Outdoor Expo is scheduled for Sept. 25 - 26, at the west end of Waterworks Park, near the Izaak Walton League Lodge, 4343 George Flagg Parkway, in Des Moines.

The Ike's Outdoor Expo is for children and families to discover new and exciting ways to enjoy the outdoors. Attendees may shoot, fish, canoe, and see and touch wildlife while learning about recreation in the great outdoors.

The Outdoor Expo will resemble a fair featuring ten villages, each with different a theme. Village themes include water sports, fishing, pointing/retrieving dog demonstrations, camping, archery, shooting, buckskinners, snow sports, indoor activities and food service.

The Expo is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sept. 25 and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 26. Admission and parking is free. Hunting and fishing licenses will be for sale on site. Attendees who stop by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources registration booth may receive a goodie bag.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Polishing a gem: Geode State Park

Lake Geode project making strides to create pristine waters to be proud of.


Just as his father and grandfather before him, Herb Grinstead farms ground in rural Danville within the Lake Geode watershed. At 62, Grinstead believes he is more than just a farmer, he is the guardian and caretaker of his small corner of earth.

"It's important to be a good steward of the land," said Grinstead, whose family has a long history of supporting area land and water conservation efforts. "My granddad had some of the first terraces in the Geode watershed."

That's why he and many other area farmers are working with Lake Geode Watershed Project Coordinator Caleb Waters on a $1.2 million, five-year plan to implement a variety of conservation practices within Geode State Park and the surrounding watershed, including planting grass buffer strips along waterways, creating terraces, implementing conservation tillage and contour cultivation.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has monitored Lake Geode, which frequently fails to meet national quality standards. Tests have shown high levels of E. coli bacteria, indicating the presence of animal and humane waste. Swimming advisories routinely are posted at the beach because of the E. coli levels.

Excessive phosphorous from fertilizers also reach the lake, which causes algae to grow rapidly, leading to elevated pH levels that are harmful to aquatic life.

The test results have led to the lake being placed on the state's list of impaired waters.

It wasn't until 2000 that DNR began monitoring state beaches as part of its Ambient Water Monitoring Program.

"(Water quality) was perceived as a new problem. But it (high bacteria and phosphorus) has probably been in the lake the whole time. I'm thinking water quality has probably improved over the years because farming practices have improved. So I would think water quality in the lake is better than it has been in past decades. Of course there is no way to really prove that," park manager Ulf Konig said during a recent interview.

The watershed

The ultimate goal of the Lake Geode Watershed Project is simple enough: Fix the water quality within the park to provide a beautiful pristine lake for swimming, boating, fishing, hiking and viewing wildlife.

"Basically people want a safe place to swim and a good place to fish while they're camping and hiking," said Drew DeLang of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. DeLang is Waters' day-to-day manager. Both men work out of the NRCS office in Burlington.

The actual details of making that happen are a little more complex.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources wrote the Water Quality Improvement Plan for the Geode watershed, which serves as the conservation bible for those working to improve the lake. The plan is often referred to as a TMDL, which stands for Total Maximum Daily Load for pH and indicator bacteria.

"When we did that (watershed) assessment, we walked up every gully, every ditch, every creek in the watershed. When we did that we collected data with a GPS unit. This was done in the fall of 2007 and the spring of 2008. The data we collected, it told us where the worst areas are for erosion," DeLang said. "We're going back now and focusing on those high gully erosion areas."

If the TMDL is the conservation bible for the watershed, then Waters is the head preacher.

Waters, who grew up on a farm southwest of New London, began work March 1 and is employed by the Des Moines and Henry counties' soil and water conservation districts. It's his job to coordinate efforts for all the partners involved in the project, including landowners, residents, the soil and water conservation districts, NRCS, DNR, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Henry and Des Moines county conservation boards and secondary roads departments and the Iowa Soybean Association and Geode Resource Conservation & Development.

Gem of southeast Iowa

"It's the gem of southeast Iowa," DeLang said of Geode. "It's a great park. We have a tendency to go to Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin (for recreation), and we have a pretty good secret right out here. Go out and take a look. There are eight miles of trail, abundant wildlife. It's a neat place, and it's yours, it's ours, the taxpayers."

Without conservation practices in the watershed, the lake's lifespan would be reduced greatly, DeLang added.

"Even with the practices there is still siltation happening out there," he said.

Built in 1950s, Lake Geode originally included 187 acres up to 56 feet deep. But gradual sedimentation over the years has eaten away at the lake. It now measures 174 acres, and its deepest part is 44 feet deep, according to DNR figures.

E. coli

The presence of E. coli, and the percentage each source contributes to the lake, varies. During heavy rains, manure application runoff is responsible. During dry periods, cattle in streams and geese at the beach receive the lion's share of the blame, according to the TMDL study.

Most of the water quality violations for Lake Geode happen during periods of wet weather when excess rainfall runs off land and into ditches and streams, which eventually empty into the lake. The runoff carries feces that has built up on the land over time.

High E. coli levels also have occurred during dry to normal periods, during which time there is less water to dilute fecal material being deposited in the lake by livestock, wildlife and septic systems.

Reducing runoff

Officials are careful not to point fingers at any one source. There are multiple factors contributing to Geode's maladies, including field runoff, erosion from within the park, livestock, a healthy population of Canada geese and other wildlife, Waters said.

The Geode watershed, land that drains into the lake, spans 10,327 acres, mostly in Des Moines County. That's a 59-to-1 watershed to lake ratio. About 170 land owners control more than 80 percent of the watershed, which extends north and east from the lake.

The land within the watershed consists of 63 percent row crops, 1.9 percent grazed lands, 8.4 percent farmsteads, roads and residences, 24.8 percent conservation areas and 1.7 percent water.

In-field assessments show an estimated sediment runoff load of about 9,200 tons a year and phosphorus runoff of about 14,235 pounds per year, some of which inevitably end up muddying the waters of Lake Geode. One of the goals of the watershed project is to reduce phosphorus and sedimentation runoff deposited in the lake to 45.8 percent.

Getting to that point means installing a variety of conservation practices on targeted private land that will reduce annual sediment delivery by about 1,624 tons and phosphorus by 2,511 pounds. To accomplish that reduction, Waters plans to work with landowners to construct this year at least an acre of grass waterway, which officials already have done. They also intend to build 4,000 feet of terraces, 14 water and sediment control basins and at least one pond.

Within the park itself, the plan is to install water and sediment control basins, as well as grade control structures in gullies to reduce the amount of annual sedimentation by 2,596 tons and phosphorus by 4,011 pounds. To accomplish this, officials want to install at least eight grade stabilization structures, or ponds, within the park this year.

"A big part of this project is we're going to be working on DNR ground to control gully erosion, which we haven't really looked at in the past," DeLang said.

Planting grass along waterways helps prevent erosion in creek beds, while the installation of ponds, terraces and dry dams holds runoff briefly, allowing sediment to settle before the water continues on its way through the watershed.

The watershed project is funded through a variety of local, state and federal programs and recently was awarded $470,000 through the DNR.

Funds are available to provide up to 75 percent cost share to install conservation practices within the watershed.

Rains this spring have damaged many of the terraces and other grade stabilization structures. Officials will have to wait until after crops are out of the fields this fall to fully assess and begin to repair damages. Waters is looking for additional funds to fix damaged structures.

"There has been a significant amount of erosion throughout the watershed, but because of the conservation practices already installed the impacts were reduced. But like everything, there is always room for improvement," Waters said.

Amenity improvements

Geode has seen several amenity improvements over the past several years.

A new beach playground area was built at a cost of $130,000. More sidewalks and another playground structure are planned this fall.

A new shelter house with enclosed bathrooms and kitchen recently was constructed for $350,000 provided by the Iowa Department of Economic Development plus $75,000 in funding from private donations, in-kind labor, the Des Moines and Henry counties board of supervisors, as well as several local communities. The sewage system for the shelter will be completed later this summer.

In 2004, three silt ponds were excavated and restored and a beach boat ramp paved at a cost of $30,000.

The park road system, including the beach parking lot underwent a $1.2 million resurfacing in 2007.

Officials purchased $5,000 worth of new sand in 2009 for the beach and playground.

Also, officials have purchased equipment for picking up goose droppings from the beach.

A great deal of volunteer time and labor went into the beach improvements, as well as contributions from area communities, including New London, Danville, Burlington, West Burlington, Middletown, Mediapolis and Mount Pleasant, Konig said.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rivers Rock! River Float & Music Fest


Dinner & Music Fest on rain or shine
Dress for the weather, the barn doors will be open

The Dawson bridge is out-of-service. If coming from the S, W or E and, avoid traveling through Dawson. See for detours through Perry and Cooper."

RSVP for music-only by Friday 9/10

Rivers Rock! River Float & Music Fest
Sat Sept 11
11 am Paddle Trip
5 pm Dinner & Music Fest

Get outside & play!
North Raccoon River - Greene County IA
A River Celebration
Hosted by Iowa Rivers Revival
11 am Paddle Trip**
@ North Raccoon River
Greene County IA
Start at Henderson Park Access (on Hwy 4 south of Jefferson)
End at Squirrel Hollow Access (west of Rippey; 8 miles ~ 4 hr float)

Bring your own canoe & gear (including life jacket) and float with Iowa Rivers Revival.
RSVP to BRING YOUR OWN CANOE (no charge to participate) to 515.277.1763 or prior to 9/11/10. Car shuttle starts at 11 am at put-in at Henderson Park.

Canoe Rentals available from Jefferson Area Chamber of Commerce – RSVP to 515.386.2155 to RENT A CANOE

Note: The Paddle Trip may be canceled due to river or weather conditions. Please provide your contact info with your paddle RSVP above. Reminder: Bring your own water, rain jacket, lunch/snacks, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and anything else you may need to be comfortable on the river. Canoeing & kayaking are potentially life threatening sports. Participants on trips promoted by Iowa Rivers Revival will accept responsibility & liability for their own preparedness & safety.

Jon Stravers and Big Blue Sky
Dinner & Music Fest
@ Big White Barn - Farmhouse Life
2244 U Avenue Rippey IA 50235

5-7 pm Dinner
Reserve a catered meal OR Bring your own picnic.

7-9 pm Live River Music
by Jon Stravers and Big Blue Sky
Their musical style includes the influence of folk, bluegrass, blues and reggae. Through their art they seek a closer connection to the planet, and indeed their musical writing comes from the inspiration of wild places and a celebration of our natural heritage and the natural rhythms of life.

"This music is a sanctuary of soul-thought and deep affection for the earth..." Denny Garcia, Midwest Music Makers Radio program, KGRR Dubuque IA
meal & music – reserve a catered meal & listen to music: $25/adult, $10/children 12 & under

music-only – bring your own picnic & listen to music: $15/adult, FREE for children 12 & under

Bring your own lawn chair. No pets, please.

Dinner & Music Fest is on RAIN or SHINE!
RSVP* for Dinner & Music Fest to by Sept 4 *Please specify "meal & music" or "music-only"

For more info go to or call 515-229-6988.
Children under 18 must be accompanied & supervised by an adult for both the Paddle Trip and Dinner & Music Fest.