Conservation Center celebrates 10 years

CONSERVATION EDUCATION is one very important tenet of the mission of the Marshall County Conservation Board (MCCB). For several decades prior to the construction of the Conservation Center at the Grimes Farm, staff members were hard at work in schools, at sponsored field trips to various county parks, educational publications and news stories to bring outdoor adventures and learning to the citizens of Marshall County.

When the gift of land from Leonard and the late Mildred Grimes through the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, the opportunity to enhance the conservation education mission was greatly improved. Long story made short, lots of planning and community involvement and support resulted in the design, construction and utilization of a Conservation Center. It is a beautiful structure set in a beautiful location within easy driving distance of the majority of Marshall County people.

Bicycle trails route people to and from the Center as the trail network of the city of Marshalltown extends into the country side. Winding through wooded lands of Linn Creek, the trail merges to pass into a reconstructed tall grass prairie of big bluestem, Indian grass, and a host of native wildflowers. A park-like setting awaits all visitors to the Grimes Farm. And inside the Conservation Center are many displays of Iowa’s native wildlife and the settings depicted within dioramas of forest, prairie and wetland.

Some of the activities available this afternoon will be wagon rides to the observation tower, birding or nature hikes, children’s story time, plus make and take crafts. Astronomy Club solar viewing is planned in addition to photography tips for improved wildlife images. There will be music also from the Prairie Creek String Band.

The Grimes Farm and Conservation Center is located west of Marshalltown at 2359 233rd St. Enjoy this afternoon. See you there.

The MCCB has a lot to offer all local citizens. Public lands in Marshall County are most likely to be owned, operated and maintained by the staff of the MCCB. Twenty eight land holdings totaling 2,052 acres are on their list. It has taken a long time for many of these natural land acquisitions to take place, but it did happen. The first land purchase was Three Bridges County Park, an access to the Iowa River for fishing. A hiking trail to the top of the tall limestone bluff adds interest to this 13 acre parcel of land.

The MCCB was officially started on July 1, 1958. The state law allowing counties to create conservation boards was enacted in 1955. The law states in part “to acquire and develop parks, preserves, forests, wildlife and conservation areas, and encourage good citizenship by providing programs of public recreation.” Through the decades since 1958, the Board’s goal has been to identify unique areas within the county, work with private landowners for protection of those resources, and in some instances acquire when the time was right those special places that Mother Nature had hidden away.

The list now includes the following special places: Along the Iowa River “Greenbelt” are the Arney Bend Wildlife Area, the Forest Reserve, Grammer Grove, Iowa River Wildlife Management Area, Mag Holland Access, Three Bridges, Furrow Access, Sand Lake, the Marietta Sand Prairie and Timmons Grove (north and south). Other conservation lands contain Bangor Square, Bear Grove, Coppock Park, Dillon Park, French Grove, Green Castle, Green Century Farm, Grimes Farm, Heart of Iowa Nature Trail, Log Cabin on Mormon Ridge, Rhodes Timber, Van Cleve Park, Wehrman Prairie, Wickersham Forest, Stewart Bird Sanctuary, American Discovery Trail along Highway 330 and the Hollingsworth Timber (east of the Bangor Cemetery). A map and brochure of all these sites is available at the Conservation Center.

Some of the above mentioned lands are suitable for and developed for traditional human outdoor activities of camping, hiking, picnicking and access to the Iowa River for fishing, canoeing or boating when the water level is high enough. Other lands are not “developed” in the sense that other than people hiking in these sites, motorized vehicle would be a direct violation of what the area was intended to conserve. The Marietta Sand Prairie is just one example where foot traffic is encouraged through a sea of waving tall grasses and prairie forbs. Hunting is allowed in many areas but not all. Determining which types of uses and allowable human outdoor recreation is carefully determined and set by Board policy. Conservation is the mission ford the long run.

At GREEN CASTLE, lots of silt is being moved about, stockpiled and hopefully permanently relocated out of the basin of the lake bed. Mike Stegmann, director of the MCCB tells of the awarding of fish habitat grant to the tune of $50,000. Work is now in full progress to begin long awaited lake bed improvements. If you travel to Green Castle, you will see lots of piles of silt, some of which will become new jetties, new approaches to walkway bridges or just stockpiled for later trucking out of the area. Next week this scribe will have a photo or two to depict the ongoing work at the lake to share with you. Stay tuned for that.

The lake at Green Castle covers 16 surface acres when at normal pool level. It has been siphoned to lower the water extensively as part of a total make-over for the fish population over-run with common carp. In late November, DNR fisheries crews will kill any remaining fish in the lake. Refilling the lake with water is expected to begin this winter and next spring. How long that process takes is strictly within the control of Mother Nature and her winter snow pack and spring rains to follow. Once enough water has refilled the basin, new fish will be stocked with bluegill, bass and catfish. There may be other fish species depending upon the recommendations of professional fisheries biologists.

In the meantime, Stegmann says that the general public may come to Green Castle to haul away the dark rich silt that has accumulated in the basin since 1965. Bring your own truck, trailer and shovels. Larger amounts of soil to be hauled away should be coordinated through the MCCB office. Call Stegmann at 752-5490 to arrange the details. While at Green Castle, do look over the impressive array of fish habitat structures along the west shore of the main picnic area. When water returns to this site, there will be lots of old culverts, tubes, stake beds and gravel beds for fish to use anyway they desire. It should be good for them.

Green Castle’s BISON exhibit area is also taking shape. The site for the new hay storage building is graded. Some new fence posts are set for bison proof wire yet to come. Funds for the bison project have come in sufficient to meet the matching grant requirement of the Martha Ellen Tye Foundation. However, the project still has a need for the last $5,000 to top off this segment of Green Castle’s long term plan. If you are so inclined, and this scribe highly encourages you to do so, make a tax-deductible donation to the Bison exhibit improvement project.

SAND LAKE has a new stocking of rainbow trout from the DNR fisheries folks. The fish came yesterday are awaiting your catching techniques. Iowa fishing laws apply and the necessary trout fee may be a requirement for you to stay legal. This will be the third trout stocking at Sand Lake. Enjoy.

PHEASANTS FOREVER will host its banquet next Saturday, the Oct. 19 at the Central Iowa Fairgrounds. The combined chapters of Tama and Marshall counties are your hosts. You all come and enjoy an evening of fun, games and fundraising for upland game habitat. Tickets are still available from Steve Armstrong by calling him at 641-751-1668 by Monday of next week to get the discount price.

PF has announced a $75,000 donation from DuPont Pioneer to fund habitat mission projects in Iowa. The money will be used to address improvements to Iowa’s landscape for pheasants and quail and other wildlife. PF chapters and the Iowa DNR want to reverse recent declines in these bird populations. Working with private landowners and public agencies and PF personnel, the goal is to blend on the land habitat in such a way that game birds can use effectively to increase their survival. Since 1982, PF has spent 43 million dollars on private land habitat programs on 109,000 areas. These projects encompass over 1.1 million acres.

For your funny bone: I have a rock garden. Last week three of them died.

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.