Hickory Grove improvements well underway

T-R PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG Story County’s Hickory Grove Lake is undergoing extensive reworking to help improve water quality, fisheries, shoreline erosion problems and spillway updates. These improvements have been known for several years and a lot of study went into a coordinated plan to make it happen. So in the fall of 2018, lake water draw down was begun and continues at present time. April 3 of 2019, many of the park facilities, not all, but significant portions had to be closed to the public. This allowed contractors to move in heavy equipment to begin renovation work. The plan is to have most major work accomplished in 2019 and allow the lake water to begin refilling in the spring of 2020. Work will continue for additional years to complete smaller elements of the park improvement plan.

HICKORY GROVE LAKE is a popular local area recreation site for camping, hiking, picnics and fishing. The 98 acre lake south of Colo has served well for many decades and grew in popularity for all the above uses. However, there comes a time when circumstances, time and the need for updates must be accomplished. It is never easy for a large complex like Hickory Grove to be partially closed, involving its main drawing card, the lake water itself being significantly lowered.

The Story County Conservation Board had to face the fact that improvements and updates needed to be done. The overall goal of this restoration plan, according to their website postings, is to improve water quality and recreational opportunities and in doing so, remove the lake from the list of Impaired Waters. Park improvements also contain stabilization of areas actively eroding, to rehabilitate existing catch basins to prevent nutrient and sediment pollution from entering the lake, to remove excess silts and sediments from arms of the lake, stabilize shorelines, add fish habitat and update the lakes outlet structure.

Today’s image was made June 13. A much reduced water level has allowed contractors access as can be seen in earthwork efforts along the beach and adjacent to the island. Continued efforts within the watershed and cooperation with watershed private landowners will allow for additional nutrient control efforts. In the past, several large rain events led to degraded water entering the lake. There was a time when impaired water was indicated by bacteria levels above standards. And while fish species remained relatively healthy, common carp imposed their detrimental effects on aquatic vegetation. The lake draw down will allow for fisheries staff from the Iowa DNR to work with Story CCB to eliminate carp fish.

Boat launching sites will be improved to allow two boats, trailers and pickup truck tow vehicles at any one time. Docks adjacent to boat ramps will be upgraded. And vehicle parking areas will be expanded near boat ramps. For fishermen and all park users, a footbridge to the island will be constructed as the island is a popular place to go or for fishermen to get near with watercraft.

A watershed technical advisory group was formed in 2008 with the tasks of learning and recommending actions that will lead to improved water quality. Critical areas of the watershed were examined along with land-use assessments. Within the public land area and the lake water itself, they were able to secure grants from the Natural Resource Conservation Service in 2008 and again in 2011, Iowa State University received a planning grant to develop an overall watershed management plan for Hickory Grove. Included in the plan were cost share programs for watershed residents in need of updating septic systems. As of now, all un-permitted systems in the watershed have been improved.

Yes some portions of Hickory Grove remain open. They include Breezy Bay (main campground) and primitive camping areas. Snow Bunting Lodge shelter is open and available for renting. The public needs to exercise caution if visiting the area and obey any posted signs near construction areas. In the long run, the wait will be worth it.

LAKES within the surrounding areas where public access is available include Upper and Lower Pine Lake at Pine Lake State Park. Union Grove State Park is northeast of Marshalltown and is located between Garwin and Gladbrook in western Tama County. The Tama County Conservation Board has Otter Creek Lake Park located northeast of Toledo. Jasper County has Rock Creek State park near Kellogg. Jasper also has several smaller lake/pond areas within their system of public lands. Story County has Dakin’s Lake on the north side of Zearing. There are actually two lakes at Dakin’s, one being the decades old structure and the newer lake built within the last decade.

And close to home we have easy access to Sand Lake east of Marshalltown. And Green Castle Recreation Area, one mile south of Ferguson, with its 16 acre lake, is now seeing the benefits of extensive lake renovation work conducted several years ago. Lot of silt was removed, new fishing jetties built and armored with stone to protect it from wind wave action. The lake bottom and shoreline areas were upgraded. Lots of new fish habitat structures were built and installed. They are hidden underwater now but the fish are attracted to them to hunt or escape predators. Fish populations were restocked and growth has seemed to be on par for a lake after a big renovation project.

Now Green Castle’s southwest silt dam is being renovated for installing a new water control structure. The top of the dam for this sub watershed catch basin will be raised four feet. The main park access roadway goes over the top of this dam and will reopen later after the grading is finished. For now it is closed to traffic but the park remains open via other gateways. For details on how this improvement project is going, contact the staff at 641-752-5490 for updates.

Last week I made mention of U of I student Ryan Adams working on his kayaking adventure and photojournalism project of paddling the entire length of the Iowa River. He finished the task by disembarking at Oakville on June 15, 325 miles from where he began. He got to experience the Iowa River from its smallest dimensions to its big river status just before it emptied into the Mississippi River. He documented the entire trip with excellent photographs, narrative and comments from people interviewed along the way. Part of his journey required portages around obstacles due to flood stage flows. And one of his images showed an unoccupied aluminum canoe caught against log jam trees. The canoe was bent backward 180 degrees, like a crushed soda can, by the force of water pressure. And he had lots of additional images of the river as it got larger over time, and abundant wildlife along its edges. And there were lots of signs of mankind to add including old car bodies laid along river banks to serve as erosion control mechanisms, crude as it is, but functional. And Ryan took many water samples for nitrate evaluation. There is no way to escape the fact that the river carries remnants of runoff from all parts of the watershed. Long term water quality issues have to involve everyone who lives or works in any watershed. The Iowa River watershed contains 12,637 square miles. 1,532 square miles of watershed are above Marshalltown.

For your funny bone: This sign seen recently noted to be on the lookout for FISHING POX. It is very contagious. Symptoms include continual complaint of the need for fresh air, sunshine, and relaxation. The victim also is likely to have a blank expression and become deaf to wife and children. Has no taste for work of any kind. Frequently checks tackle box and fishing catalogs. Likes to hang out in sporting goods stores that sell fishing tackle. Gets late night phone calls from fishing buddies. Mumbles to himself and lies to everyone about the big fish that got away. No known cure for this disease. Treatment can help however, if permitted to go fishing as often as possible. Do you know anybody with this “disease?”


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 PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.


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