Conservation Center a special place

CONSERVATION education is the emphasis of its being. The Conservation Center will be 10 years old this fall. You will be invited to celebrate in this great addition to long-term conservation endeavors. Details will follow later this summer including when, where and what times you can participate. Stay tuned. In the meantime, for the thousands of local and out-of-state visitors who have already visited the center, a special invitation is not needed. For them, it is just a lot of fun to return often to this jewel in the heartland.

Outside, the facility is wrapped in natural surroundings of trees and native prairie plantings. The bike path from Marshalltown winds through streamside trees and bursts into the openness of tall grass prairie before ending at the center’s front door. Hiking trails wind through the adjacent Linn Creek floodplain and reconstructed prairie plantings. The Mildred Grimes memorial observation tower is just one hiking trail destination that is well worth the effort expended to reach it.

The administrative offices of the Marshall County Conservation Board are located at the Conservation Center. You can learn about all the other MCCB public lands, more than 2,000 acres, in 28 separate tracts. These include sites along the Iowa River Green Belt such as Grammer Grove, the Forest Reserve, Arney Bend, Timmons Grove, the Iowa River Wildlife Area, Sand Lake, Furrow Access, Three Bridges and Mag Holland. Other really neat sites include the Marietta Sand Prairie, Bear Grove, French Grove, Green Castle, Historic Log Cabin, Wehrman Prairie, Wickersham Forests, and the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail.

For details on any of the above noted special conservation areas or public recreational opportunities, feel free to call 752-5490 to learn more about your area of interest. Then go outside to explore, to learn, to enjoy your natural resource special places.

While on the subject of the Marshall County Conservation Board, here is a bit of clarification for you. It seems this detail gets overlooked and misunderstood frequently. The MCCB is a Marshall County unit of county government, in the range of a few small percentage points of the overall county budget. The MCCB is not a part of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Long ago, in 1955 in fact, the Iowa Legislature created the County Conservation Law. This enabled the citizens of each county to vote on if and when to establish a local county conservation board. That was accomplished for us in June 1958. The reasons for the local conservation efforts were the result of foresight by Iowa conservation leaders of the 1940s who knew the land, its much-varied natural offerings and the people. They envisioned a system of local control for local needs that could be much more responsive to local resource issues. Thanks to their long-range vision, Iowa has 99 county conservation boards that are doing a fantastic job in this regard.

Do the MCCB and the DNR work together for the good of all conservation issues? Yes. One has a much broader statewide mission. Together you and I are the beneficiaries of a system for natural resource conservation that is the envy of many other states in the U.S. Check out other county conservation board activities and special resource areas on Facebook and other online outlets. One could also plan an extensive Iowa-only vacation by mapping out destinations for various county conservation lands and then visiting these sites in a grand tour of Iowa. Try it this summer. You will be glad you did.

BISON EXHIBIT DONATIONS continue to come in. More are needed, however, so contact Mike Stegmann at the MCCB 752-5490 to assist. At Green Castle, the bison exhibit is in line for improvements. New fencing is one. A new storage facility for winter hay is another. The building will also house the pumping aerator equipment for the south silt pond Trumpeter Swan enclosure. Bison at Green Castle are a major drawing card for visitors to this 116-acre site. Improving the exhibit is a tax deductible gift on you part. Thank you.

Bison, commonly called buffalo, are the largest hooved mammal in North America. It is a species of iconic status for it symbolizes the exploration and settlement of the great plains. Estimates placed bison total populations anywhere between 50 and 75 million animals across most of the states, Canada and northern Mexico. These animals were very important to native people because bison was food, clothing and culture. Bison meant survival.

Bison were common in Iowa from thousands of years ago right up until settlement took a firm grip on landscape changes in the mid 1800s. Before Europeans settled Iowa, various Native American tribes occupied Iowa and commonly hunted bison. Although few accounts of these hunts are available, one of the most detailed involves Keokuk, a Sauk chief. In 1833, he and a number of Sauk and Fox members traveled to the headwaters of the Iowa River (probably to Franklin or Wright County), where their hunting trip was delayed by a fracas with a party of Sioux. Eventually, they found a heard of 300 bison, of which they killed 80.

Over time, settlers clearly were part of the reason for bison number declines. For settler bison were food, very good food indeed. Bison were killed and eaten whenever the opportunity allowed. Extensive landscape changes were also moving west across Iowa like a slow-moving machine. Prairie sod was plowed wherever the land was naturally dry enough to allow initial farming activities. Bison were not an adaptable animal to this scene. Even though Iowa probably had only modest numbers of bison scattered within its borders, records show the last bison in Clinton County was killed in 1839, Marshall County in 1847, and several west central Iowa counties in 1863. Pocahontas County lays claim to the last free-ranging bison killed Aug. 20, 1863 near a slough (prairie wetland) close to present-day Plover, Iowa.

Today, private holdings of small bison herds dot Iowa’s farms. Raised for meat, the bison endures in the land that once held great numbers of this majestic, furry beast. And the name buffalo is used in at least two cities….Buffalo Center and Buffalo, in township names five times, and several creek drainages are also called buffalo. And next month at the Iowa State Fair, you can buy bison burgers and visit the displays of Iowa Bison Association members. I think the bison is here to stay. Good.

Cliff Wilson, of Conrad, sent a few photos. It seems his bluebird house was taken over by wrens. They raised a brood successfully. Then it was the bluebirds’ turn. They are using the house as intended for their own family. Same house, just different times. Thanks for sharing this little story.

The 2013-14 Federal Duck Stamp has now arrived at the Marshalltown post office. It costs $15. The correct name is actually Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. Eighty years ago, the first stamp was issued at the height of the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s. Since that time, more than $800 million has been raised to use in conservation of wildlife habitats across America. Stamp sales are intended to provide a constant source of revenue to protect wetlands. While the initial intent was on target, times are a changing. The stamp cost today should be more in line with $30 just to offset inflationary factors. But the reality is the stamp cost is what it is….too low for today’s world. What a bargain. Serious waterfowl hunters have encouraged other hunters to buy two stamps. Not a bad idea. Anyone who enjoys wetland wildlife should buy this stamp, hunter or non-hunter.

For your funny bone: Long ago when men cursed and beat the ground with sticks, it was called witchcraft. Today it is called golf.

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.