Water is a magnet for recreation

SAND LAKE is a Marshall County-owned parcel of land and water. Today’s image was made last Tuesday. Public land and the actual property lines would take in most of the middle segments. Land and water to the far west side and far east sides are still privately owned. The date was in 1999 when 95 acres of land and water were purchased by Marshall County. The property is under the control and management of the County Conservation Board. A handy brochure published by the Marshall CCB contains an accurate map of the public land. Boundary signs are posted to inform the public of where they can legally set foot.

The waters of this facility are the result of decades of time during which sand and gravel stones of selected sizes were mined by the Martin-Marietta Company. As excavations reached limits in various pools, new excavations were begun. That is how the water areas expanded over time. Dredging equipment used by the quarry typically would go to depths of 30 to 35 feet before the materials being pumped out contained too little sand for continued economic need. Above 30 feet, old glacial derived sand materials are sufficient to make the process viable. And the primary reason there is enough sand to be worth mining is our streams geological history. The Iowa River and its junction with Linn Creek was a good place to drill core samples to find sand. And it was thousands of years of time since the last glacial event that water runoff from watersheds and natural sorting action of running water deposited huge quantities of sand near the junction of these two streams. Sand is a major ingredient in concrete mixes. Sand in itself is also a major construction fill material.

Thanks to the purchase in 1999, the public now has close by access to fishing water. A boat ramp allows easy placement of bigger boats into and out of the water. Fishing docks at several places allow people to cast a line into deeper water. The entire shoreline has submerged trees, sunken pallet-type fish habitat structures, and in some places rock piles that fish like to hide in. Fish species in Sand Lake include bluegill, crappie, walleye, bass, yellow bass, green sunfish, carp, big mouth buffalo, white bass, quillback carpsucker and whatever other species of fish from the Iowa River that come in or out during high flow flood times. Rainbow trout are stocked each fall and early spring in a cooperative program with Iowa DNR fisheries staff.

Water levels in Sand Lake reflect ground water levels within the Iowa River floodplain. If the river runs low for a long period of time, winter or summer, there will be an almost equal elevation of water in the river and the lake. However, if the river is at or near flood stages, there will be hydraulic pressure from the high side toward the low side to force a gradual equalization. This process takes place slowly underground through multiple layers of porous sands and gravels. High water will eventually express itself with flooded fishing piers and even road and parking lot closings at Sand Lake. Given enough time, water flows in the river will return to normal lower rates. And at such time, hydrostatic pressure from water in the lake will slowly release itself through those same underground sand and gravel layers to drain back into the river.

Migrating waterfowl use Sand Lake every spring and fall as a stopover during migration. Canada geese are most common but other species of geese will also use the water as a place to rest and feed. Many species of ducks will be in the mix. And birds of prey can also be sighted on or over Sand Lake. Bald eagles are frequently observed. Dedicated bird watchers will always include Sand Lake as a stop to denote birds on their checklists.

Sand Lake has a lot to offer for people wanting get outdoors for recreation. Have a great day outside.

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If you want to explore other water based recreation opportunities, a series of boat ramps along the Iowa River allow canoe/kayak put in-take out points. The Forest Reserve has the northern most ramp in Marshall County. Downstream 5.9 miles is the ramp at Timmons Grove (south bank). It is 6.1 miles more before one gets to Marshalltown’s Center Street low head dam. Take note there is no boat ramp at the dam. However, 1.1 miles downstream is a ramp at Riverview Park. From this point it is 4.2 miles to Furrow Access and its ramp located on East Main Street. Another 4 miles will get one to the last Marshall County ramp at Three Bridges County Park.

Do consider a drive to Green Castle Recreation Area found one mile south of Ferguson. This 16 surface acre lake has fish, lot of shoreline jetties, island access and mowed trails. Three nice shelter houses await your family picnic needs. Gander Lookout shelter is enclosed and if rented, will be unlocked for group use. Its interior native wood paneling is worth seeing as it adds to the outdoor feeling of this big shelter house. In past years extensive renovation of the lake basin, improved shorelines, numerous submerged fish habitat structures and a boat ramp have been added. A recent addition is a volleyball court near Handy-cove shelter house. And of course there is a bison pasture and several observation points to view these massive native animals. Future plans include primitive and RV site camping facilities.

On the wild side of the ledger, water can be found in two former farm ponds at the Iowa River Wildlife Area. It takes a hike of about a half-mile to get there but it is an excursion worth the effort. Additional ponds can be found below the bluffs at this 485 acre area. The parking lot is located not too far west of the Asher Creek bridge on the Sand Road. Arney Bend Wildlife Area has water is several old oxbow shallow water ponds. These are not likely to hold many fish although every high water flood event from the Iowa River can allow fish to migrate into these pools and then be trapped when the river level falls. Each of these more remote water sites have yielded excellent wildlife photography opportunities. Just a note: You will earn your rewards at these sites by hard hiking, hard work and preparation before leaving home to dress for the elements and annoying insects.

Water is a magnet for wildlife and a magnet for people seeking quality recreation time. Enjoy.

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Reminder: Water and fish at the KID’S FISH DERBY will next Saturday, July 8 from 8 a.m. until noon. The site will be Marshalltown’s Riverside Cemetery. Bring your own equipment. Of course, kids ages 15 or younger do not need a fishing license. Prizes will be available, and special recognition for the smallest and largest bullhead fish taken from the cemetery pond.

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Water is where fish live of course. Iowa has border rivers of the Missouri and Mississippi, each with huge fishery components. The number of recreational fishing hours spend on these major rivers is literally millions of hours. Then there are major interior rivers of Iowa and smaller tributary streams. Now add Iowa big glacial lakes and man-made lakes and the total available water is huge. It all adds up to a lot of water for recreation including fishing.

How many different species of fish live in Iowa waters? Answer: 148. Here are the broad categories … Catfish and bullheads; Sunfish – Bass and panfish; Perch; Trout; Pike, Temperate Bass; Suckers; Minnows; Primitive fish; and lastly miscellaneous fishes. To go through all the common names of these fishes is not going to happen in this column today. Following is just a sampling of fish names you may or may not be familiar with: Sturgeon, bowfin, American Eel, Black Redhorse, Blue sucker, Northern hog sucker, Quillback river carpsucker, Black crappie, Orange spotted sunfish, Rock bass, Walleye, Northern pike, Largemouth and smallmouth bass, Gizzard shad, Slimy sculpin, Bigeye shiner, Blacknose dace, Central stoneroller, Common shiner, Fathead minnow, Gravel chub, Plains minnow, and many more to numerous to list. Investigating all of the fishes of Iowa waters could earn you a PhD in Ichthyology, the study of the branch of zoology dedicated to fish.

Good quality water is essential for any aquatic life to thrive. The entire aquatic ecosystem of micro-nutrients, zooplankton, invertebrates, clams and snail, and then on up the food chain to very small fish to the largest predatory fishes depends on good quality water. Iowa has a challenge in this regard, one that can be obtained if we all work together to insist on practical and efficient means to keep water on the land, keep runoff minimal and water quality high. None of us have to have PhD’s in Ichthyology to understand this. We just need to know enough about how ecosystems, us included, depend upon clean water.

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“Always drink water upstream from the herd.”

— Will Rogers


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.