Arney Bend, a green belt treasure

T-R PHOTOs BY GARRY BRANDENBURG This large block of forest land to the left side of the Iowa River is the Marshall County Conservation Board's Arney Bend Wildlife Area. The site has 203 acres of mostly bottomland species of trees, and several open fields that were planted to native grasses in the 1980s. Many ancient circuitous river channels are contained with this property which can easily be observed in later winter or early spring when water fills many of these old river loops. One large river channel (not visible) was historically named Arney Bend, and thus this is how the naming of this area came about. Arney Bend is managed for wildlife ... deer, wild turkey, pheasants, waterfowl and furbearers. Many more non-game species avail themselves to its wetlands, prairie and forest habitats. This weekend, during shotgun deer season number one, Arney Bend will be one of several public hunting areas where hunters will hope to see deer and perhaps take a deer.

ARNEY BEND is a big place. Its forest habitat, lots of ancient curving but now dry river channels, ponds and prairie fields can get a person temporarily lost. Fortunately the Marshall County Conservation Board has a brochure for this wildlife area to assist hunter, hikers, or photographers with the geographic sign posts of the site. However, people with good woodsmanship skills can orient themselves to various areas via several mowed lanes along field edges. These mowed paths help people get access into the heart of the area. The paths serve a dual purpose since next spring will be a time for conservation crews desiring to conduct management fires on some of the re-constructed prairie grass fields.

Many of the Marshall County Conservation public lands they manage are located along or adjacent to the the Iowa River. So it is natural to label them Iowa River Green Belt areas. Starting at the north side of Marshall County, green belt properties are Grammer Grove, the Forest Reserve, Arney Bend, Timmons Grove, the Iowa River Wildlife Management Area, Sand Lake, Furrow Access, Three Bridges and lastly the Mag Holland Access Area. Each of these public areas has a mix of upland oak-hickory forests, bottomland cottonwood, walnut, ash and maple, and of course water in some fashion.

Right now because of dry weather this fall and a lack of any heavy rains, the river is lazily poking along at a stage of only 9.84 feet with a corresponding flow rate of about 300 cubic feet per second. Basically the river is very low. This scribe observed several deer during late October wade across the river. As I watched with well focused binoculars, the deepest portions of the river barely got the bellies of adult doe deer wet. When the trio of deer made the opposite bank, they casually shook of the water the same way a wet dog will rapidly rotate its hide to thrust off excess water. In those portions of the channelized Iowa River upstream from the Iowa Veterans Home, the deepest river water may only be 12 inches or less. Deer have no problem at all in walking across the river.

Sandbars are high and dry above the water. Do not be deceived however. Under the surface of any bottomland, or river floodplain area, is a point at which water can be found. Geologists call it the water table, the point at which all the tiny spaces between soil particles of sand, silt and clay are filled with water. At any height above this the soil will be much drier. At dry times, reaching the water table would take a long auger.

In contrast, particularly in the spring after all snow has melted, or after many heavy spring rains, the soil column fills all available spaces with water. At such times even a shallow hole may see water trickle into it. And then we cannot forget floods that periodically inundate the river valley. This of course leads to fully saturated soil, which become thick, gooey, sticky and unpleasant due to a high percentage of clay and silt particles. Water captured within the soil profile ultimately is available for all kinds of grasses, understory shrubs and of course the trees themselves. Deep tree root systems will take the water in and pump it to the tallest branches as new spring leaves emerge. Life in the forest is adapted to full fledged droughts or long periods of high water and floods.

If and when a person takes the time to explore an area like Arney Bend at any season of the year, you will find a host of interesting things to see, to listen to and enjoy. Winter time snow shoe hikes or cross country skis can fill the bill. Come spring, wildflower surveys and returning waterfowl are there to observe. Eagles soaring overhead are common. Summer time brings tall prairie grasses to full height of over seven feet tall. Fully leafed out trees offer shade from a hot sun. Fall’s cooler temperatures bring a new excitement with tree leaves turning colors. Oak acorns or walnuts falling to the ground will be eagerly intercepted by squirrels. Deer and turkey also eat acorns. Fall will see migrating birds going south this time. Turkey poults are almost fully grown and white-tailed deer fawns have lost their spotted coats by the end of September. Nature’s full life cycle is played out in many places similar to Arney Bend.

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The first Iowa DEER SEASON is under way right now. It opened yesterday at 30 minutes before sunrise. Those who selected to purchase licenses for first season have through Wednesday to try their luck. Thursday and Friday of this week are closed to deer hunting. Dec. 9-17 is deer season two. Deer license sales come in close to 60,000 for first deer, and 40,000 for the mid-December colder weather second deer.

During these deer seasons, one method of hunting is to post hunters at one end of timber zone, while other then do a slow walk from a distant point and join up with those who were just standing, watching and waiting. And party hunt rules apply whereby a posted hunter may shoot several deer as long as there is clear communication as to the total number of tags available. Shotgun seasons for deer are when the majority of deer herd reduction takes place. Any deer killed must be tagged before it is moved or within 15 minutes, whichever comes first.

As of mid-week just prior to this weekends gun deer season, youth, early muzzle loader and archers have taken approximately 29,000 deer. By the time the last deer seasons end on Jan. 10 of next year, over 100,000 Iowa deer will be removed from the state’s population.

Blaze orange clothing is a must. In fact it is a requirement for a gun deer hunter’s torso to be covered by a jacket, coat or sweatshirt that is a solid blaze color. The entire idea is safety related, to be seen by other hunters. Game wardens do not wish to investigate hunting incidents or accidents but will do so if the situation arises.

And deer hunter may donate deer skins to the Elks Lodge. Barrels for depositing deer skins are located at Kwik-Star on South 6th Street or at East side tire at East Main street and 12th Avenue. Deer hides donated will be sent to a tannery for eventual use by Veterans to make leather products.

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It is DECEMBER, the last month for the year 2017. So to help get in the Christmas spirit, the Marshall County Conservation Board will assist one to make your own wreath. The cost is $20 per person for the class to be held on the 7th from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Grimes Farm and Conservation Center. Call first thing Monday, 752-5490, to see is space is still available and if you can be worked in. The history of wreaths will be told by Naturalist Emily Herring, common evergreen species in Iowa that may be adaptable for wreaths, and how to properly harvest select branches from a conifer tree that will do it little harm. Soon some snow may fall to decorate the landscape. Maybe your wreath will get a dusting of snow as it hangs from your outside door.

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“It is not enough to understand the natural world; the point is to preserve it.”

— Edward Abbey


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at P.O. Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.