Lake improvements pay long run dividends

GREEN CASTLE is getting a lot of attention from the MCCB staff this summer. As you may already be aware, water levels in the lake continue to go down slowly with the aid of a siphon system. As the water gets lower, dryer exposed shoreline segments are getting attention in order to facilitate shoreline improvements. The lower the water gets the less volume of water there will be for the fish. Later this fall, the final steps in this multi-step process of radical fish management practices will allow a selective poison to be applied by the DNR fisheries management crew of Solon.

To review, the drastic steps needed to reinvigorate the lake have many factors. Chief among them was the unwanted and unauthorized introduction many years ago of the common carp. It probably got there as the result of unauthorized “minnow” baits used by some fishermen. Instead of properly disposing bait fish, they were dumped into the lake. It was a case of the good, the bad and the ugly, which in time did all they could for a complete ecological disruption to the balance of predator and prey fish at the lake.

What was suspected and confirmed last year was the presence of common carp in large numbers. The act of feeding by this species kept the silt load disturbed, which does not allow aquatic vegetation to flourish due to poor sunlight penetration, and thus the food chain of invertebrates that live on the vegetation is not there to support bluegill and crappie. The lake fish population was completely out of whack. Time to start over.

This is not a new activity in Iowa lakes, or other lakes in the Midwest. Over time, fish populations can get out of balance with no easy way to restore that balance. Thus begins the process of severely lowering water levels, thereby concentrating remaining fish, and ultimately making it easier for the final step of total fish removal. Green Castle’s 16- acre lake has served for a long time to offer public fishing and recreation. It will come back. What any venture like this requires is the understanding by the public that Mother Nature does things on her time scale, not mankind’s instant satisfaction mode.

While the lake water level is very low, other work at the property is getting attention. Shoreline shaping is taking place with heavy equipment. A boulder wall is being placed near the Handicove Shelter. Additional fish shelters and structures have been places at or near the jetties along the lake edge. Once water is allowed to refill, these fish hiding holes will attract and hold fish. But before that happens, MCCB crews are also planning a boat launching area, yet to be built, with an appropriate access roadway and parking spot. Hiking excursions will see improvements with new jetties, fishing piers and walkway bridges to the south island. The only time to do these types of construction work is when the water is gone. So the timing of the long list of improvements is being chipped away at in order to provide a new look to this little lake near Ferguson.

The netting operation on Wednesday took out at least 3,000 fish. Most of them were crappie with an average and almost uniform size of about 4 to 5 inches long. The biological term for this condition of the crappie is called stunted. Stunted means they do not have enough to eat of the right kinds of invertebrate aquatic life. The crappie’s body condition was thin and small relative to their potential. Thanks to the unwanted carp, crappies were starving so to speak. So, too, were bluegills. Another unwanted species netted was a large shad, in itself not a good sign. The nets did find a few largemouth bass, and a few walleye, no northern pike. What the present waters lack is a good predator base. In time, the placement of walleye, bass and northern in Green Castle’s waters in appropriate ratios to prey fish species will be the goal.

Lakes in Iowa are very valuable natural resources. Since one goal at Green Castle is improved water quality over time, and renovated fish populations, both of which are primary factors in bringing people to the area. People will drive hours to recreate at lakes with the best water quality. July was named as Lakes Appreciation Month by Governor Terry Branstad in order to draw attention to the value of lakes to our economy. Here is another little fact: “Sixty percent of Iowans visit lakes annually and most of them make multiple trips each year” said Chuck Gipp, director if the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Those trips mean money and money attracts businesses looking to serve that market. We know that Iowans prefer to fish, hike, camp and boat on lakes with better water quality and are willing to drive further and stay longer for that experience.”

In the long run, lake renovation projects take time but are well worth the wait. A study of water-based recreation use survey by Iowa State University’s Center for Agriculture and Rural Development found the most popular lake use activities in descending order were fishing, picnicking, wildlife watching, boating, hiking/biking and swimming/beach use.

Green Castle’s drawing board of improvements and plans include the concept of a modern camping area for RV units. The timing of these long- range plans does fit well into what is being initiated now at the lake. All of the steps required to improve this local water-based recreation area can make Green Castle a real gem of an area. Do visit with Mike Stegmann about those long range plans, what is envisioned and what kind of long-run financing is required to make those visions reality. Modern camping facilities with good access roadways, level camping pads, water and electrical services do pay off in the long run. But getting there takes time, a large investment of funds, and cooperation from many public and private organizations to secure any and all available grants to assist in this work. You, the public, can be the ‘cheerleader squad’ for Green Castle’s future.

The STATE FAIR is ready to begin on Aug. 8. For the next 10 days, all sorts of youth, 4-H, or FFA projects will be on parade in the show rings. Hard work will pay off very well for many of our young Iowans. Some will sell beef, swine or lamb at auction and gain enough cash to pay for lots of college level course work. Hurray for the kids from the farms of Iowa who will reap the benefits of their labors. But the fair has a bit of something for everyone. Just go. Have fun. Enjoy.

RECENT RAINS have been a blessing for field crops, stream flows and renewal to area ponds. Our forests, native prairies and natural wetlands and marshes have also benefited from timely rains. A one- inch rainfall event puts 27,154 gallons of water per acre on the land. If the rain falls slowly enough, it has time to soak in. A good drink for the land is most welcome.

Our longest day length passed during June 18-24 with 15 hours and 15 minutes. As we get later in the summer, day length has already noticeably shrunk to 14 hours 22 minutes. Our sunrise this morning was 31 minutes later than it was in mid-June. And our sunset time is earlier by 22 minutes. During August, each average day length will shorten by two to three minutes per day. Fall is approaching faster than we think. Get ready. it is an unstoppable force.

Words of wisdom to remember: Words that soak in are whispered … not yelled.

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.