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Hickory Grove project nears completion

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG — Hickory Grove park is located near Colo. This area is managed by the Story County Conservation Board. This lake has been a huge recreational destination for many decades. In 2104 and continuing into this year, an extensive list of improvements to the watershed, to the lake shore, lake bottom and the dam itself have been accomplished. One of the remaining tasks is to draw down the water level extensively to remove carp fish. Once that is accomplished, the gate valve can be closed to allow the lake to refill. By 2021, a full lake and its amenities will be gearing back toward full service. Today’s aerial image was made last June 24.

HICKORY GROVE LAKE is nearing the end of a long multi-year process of improvements. A huge project like this lake’s renovation is not easy, inexpensive or quick. It took considerable planning from many stakeholders to outline the needs for lake water quality improvements. An on-going monitoring of water quality over the past decades noted a decline in quality standards, enough so that parameters for water needs found Hickory Grove’s lake on a list of Impaired Waters. Indicator bacteria at the beach area in the past was not good.

That set in motion planning efforts to identify all things that could be done within the watershed so that incoming water would be cleaner to start with. That goal seems to have been largely successful. Hickory Grove has 40 acres of watershed for each surface acre of water, a 40 to 1 ratio. The surface area of the lake, when filled to normal levels, will be about 100 acres or maybe a tad less now that many jetties have been built, shoreline trail areas prepared and island access via a foot bridge is in place. Every landowner within the watershed became cooperators to limit and improve septic systems. Land use within the watershed was also addressed to encourage farming and livestock practices to retain surface runoff.

The Story County Conservation Board used lots of sources of financing on this project. Iowa has a Lakes Restoration Program that became a major source of dollars to assist with planned work. That made up about 75 percent of the needs. Story CCB normal budgeting from year to year covered the other 25 percent. In total, Hickory Grove’s improvements will total about $3.6 million.

While watershed stakeholders were involved early on and the lake water itself was drawn down over the last several years and kept low on purpose. A big cut into the dam was made as that a new draw down control structure could be installed within the original stream channel. That new control valve is about 30 feet below normal lake levels. It will allow for water level control to be used as needed now and into the future. Now it will be possible to drain the lake easily, if needed, to within five feet of empty. In contrast, the old spillway and draw down gate could only take the lake down by 10 feet, not nearly enough.

This past year, 2019 saw continuing work with Iowa Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologists to net and remove fish, particularly carp, a very undesirable species that by themselves were responsible for deteriorating water quality. Netting operations thought all the carp had been removed. Lots of fish were taken out for sure, however during the spring of 2020, spawning carp were observed within the remaining water pool. This was not expected or desirable.

Plan B called for stopping lake refill efforts, opening the drain valve again and now when water becomes as low as staff can get it, a kill for any remaining fish will take place. It is like starting over regarding fish restocking efforts. The old have to go so that new bass, bluegill and catfish restocking can resume this fall.

While the lake water was low, construction crews stabilized the shoreline with an impressive amount of large rock placements. This is called rip-rap and works to dissipate erosion effects from wind blown wave action. If one looks at the lake contours now without water, you can easily see where the new normal water level will stabilize as indicated by rock shoreline protection. Lots of fish habitat structures were placed at appropriate sites that will be unseen when full lake level returns.

Draw down also allowed reworking boat ramps to make them wider, of the correct slope and with adjacent launching docks. A single lane boat ramp in on the southeast side of the park and not too far from the beach area is a big new parking area and a double wide boat ramp with launching docks. The island area is now accessible via a new jetty and steel footbridge. A hiking trail also has been built that will allow people to travel completely around its shoreline.

Hickory Grove has always been and will continue to be a top recreational facility. The end of construction is near and once the bad fishes are removed, new water can be allowed to slowly refill the lake basin. The wait will be worth the effort. Details and updates can be obtained by email to the resident park ranger Luke Feilmeier at lfeilmeir@storycountyiowa.gov.

PINE LAKE STATE PARK near Eldora is planning remodeling and renovations beginning this month. Renovations to shelters, cabins and shower building will be on the to do list. A new shelter at Circle Point is planned along with a vault toilet. Also on the list are plumbing upgrades and Americans with Disabilities access at the stone cabins. Look for new showers and restrooms at the campgrounds. Campground areas will close July 27th so construction and renovation work can begin. The public is asked to be patient as this work progresses.

IOWA RIVER fluctuations were showing us how big rainfall events impact the river. It is flowing bank full right now even though the crest happened at 11 a.m. on Tuesday. At that time the river gauge reading was 18.11 feet, a level about six feet above “normal” flow rates. Any low lying land areas were immediately impacted such as the area north of Marshalltown west of Highway 14. Those flood waters are now slowly going down. The river was near “normal” at 11.86 feet on June 19 before big rains came. If boaters, canoeists or kayakers venture out on the river, take all precautions for hidden hazards. And do wear life jacket devices at all time. Be careful out there.

A quote for the times we find ourselves in: “Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.”

— Khalil Gibran, writer, poet

and artist.

Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a gradute of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at:

P.O. Box 96

Albion, IA 50005

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