Category Archives: Water Trails in Iowa

Dams, Then and Now!

Littleton Dam and Mill, 1800’s.  Wapsipinicon River, Buchanan County 
Photo Credits to Robert Ungs 

 

Dams have had their place in Iowa history. Originally built out of timbered wood, they were used to power various mills such as flour, gristmills and sawmills. Their power was later harnessed for hydro-electric needs and timber was replaced with concrete structures.

Most dams have seen their value depleted and a need for removal due to age, human safety and are a barrier for fish reproduction and do create a decline in vulnerable mussel species.
Some municipal water supplies are assisted by dams as well as some recreational pools. By and large however, dams have served their purposes long ago and rivers can be set free to their original wild and natural ways.

 

Littleton Dam removal:  winter, 2019. Photo Credits to Iowa DNR 

Littleton Dam:  summer, 2019. Conversion, currently in process. 
Photo Credits to Pam Wolter 

Monthly Feature: Get Acquainted with a Water Trail Skunk River: Story County

Features: lots of fallen trees creating both hazards and habitat. Old bridges and dams; dams that need portaged and constructed rock rapids.

Classified: “non-meandered” stream. That means that the State of Iowa owns the water flowing through it, but not the land adjacent to it or under it. That’s all private land. Please respect it and don’t trespass. Even though you can’t get out or camp along this beautiful stream, there’s plenty to see along the way!

Access Points: 10 access points with 32 total miles of river corridor

Skills Needed: Intermediate for the first 15 miles of water trail, then beginner and all skill levels last 17 miles. Check the specific sections on the map at
https://www.iowadnr.gov/Things-to-Do/Canoeing-Kayaking/Water-Trail-Maps-Brochures

River drop: < 2 feet

Possible wildlife views of: beaver, wood ducks, deer, raccoons

Tree species: silver maple, sycamore, cottonwood and oak

Brochures and maps: Can be downloaded and paper copies can be picked up at assorted Conservation offices and Nature Centers. Go to https://www.iowadnr.gov/ for online viewing.

A good way to plan your trip is by using the IDNR Interactive Mapping Services resource. Go to the IMS Guide for instructions on how to use the Interactive Mapping Services, or access the IMS directly by going to Recreation Map at https://www.iowadnr.gov

*Credits: Excerpts taken from the Iowa DNR Water Trail brochure: Skunk River: Story County

Monthly Feature: Get Acquainted with a Water Trail Des Moines River: Boone County

Features: Railroad and numerous trains, low-head dam at Fraser, rock arch rapids at Boone Waterworks, river up to 100 yards wide in locations, heavily wooded corridor, high trestle bridge, upland woodlands

Water levels: The US Army Corps of Engineers regulates water levels upstream in Lake Red Rock, so water levels may be unexpectedly low, or high and fast, depending on upstream management

Classified:The Des Moines is a meandered stream. That means that private property begins at the high water mark, typically where vegetation begins. The river bed, sandbars and banks up to the high water mark are held in public trust for the people of Iowa. Sandbar camping is allowed on meandered streams.

Access Points: 11 access points with 42 total miles of river corridor

Skills Needed: Beginner and intermediate. Check the map at
https://www.iowadnr.gov/Things-to-Do/Canoeing-Kayaking/Water-Trail-Maps-Brochures

River drop: < 2 feet

Possible wildlife views of: Beaver, turtles, dragonflies, white tailed deer

Birding: Major ancient flyway corridor. Possible species: Belted Kingfisher, bank, cliff and rough-winged swallows, phoebes, killdeer, sandpipers, turkey vultures, eagles, hawks,

Tree species: Hardwood forests, Willows, Basswood, Oaks

*Credits: Excerpts taken from the Iowa DNR Water Trail brochure: Des Moines River: Boone County

Brochures and maps:
Can be downloaded and paper copies can be picked up at assorted Conservation offices and Nature Centers. Go to https://www.iowadnr.gov/ for online viewing.

A good way to plan your trip is by using the IDNR Interactive Mapping Services resource. Go to the IMS Guide for instructions on how to use the Interactive Mapping Services, or access the IMS directly by going to Recreation Map at https://www.iowadnr.gov/ or at
http://iowawatertrails.org/?p=2864

Monthly Feature: Get Acquainted with a Water Trail This Month: Wapsipinicon River Water Trail: Buchanan County

 

The Wapsipinicon River has a romantic past as the local Wapsi Folklore has several stories about how the Wapsipinicon got its name. A common story has the young Indian maiden named Wapsi and the son of an Indian chief named Pinicon canoeing on the river on the eve of their wedding day. The jealous Fleat Foot sneaks along the shoreline, and shoots Pinicon through the heart. As Wapsi jumps to the aid of Pinicon, the canoe overturns, and the two lovers drown in the swift current. To commemorate the sad event, the Indians combined the names and called the river Wapsipinicon.*

Classified: a navigable “non-meandered” stream. That means that the State of Iowa owns the water flowing through it, but not the land adjacent to it or under it. Except at access sites and public areas marked on the map, the land adjacent to and underneath the river is private. Please respect it and do not trespass.*

Access Points: 11 access points with 40 total miles of river corridor

Skills Needed: Beginner and intermediate, section dependent, check map at
https://www.iowadnr.gov/Things-to-Do/Canoeing-Kayaking/Water-Trail-Maps-Brochures

River drop: < 2 feet

Features: quality backwaters, wetlands, woodland habitat, scenic forests, oxbows, backwater sloughs, 10-80′ limestone bluffs, numerous sandbars

Possible wildlife views of: Beaver, muskrat, river otter, painted, soft-shell and snapping turtles, 15 species of mussels

Birding: Designated Bird Conservation Area (2007) due to extensive diversity of bird species

Fish: One of the best fishing rivers in the state. Species found: northern pike, channel catfish, crappies, bluegill, smallmouth bass, walleye

Tree species: Silver Maple, Oaks, Willows

* Credits: Excerpts taken from the Iowa DNR Water Trail brochure: Wapsipinicon, Buchanan County

To learn more specific information, connect to these links.
http://iowawatertrails.org

Brochures and maps:
Can be downloaded and paper copies can be picked up at assorted Conservation offices and Nature Centers. Go to https://www.iowadnr.gov/ for online viewing.

A good way to plan your trip is by using the IDNR Interactive Mapping Services resource. Go to the IMS Guide for instructions on how to use the Interactive Mapping Services, or access the IMS directly by going to Recreation Map at https://www.iowadnr.gov/or at
http://iowawatertrails.org/?p=2864

Monthly Feature: Get Acquainted with a Water Trail: Lower Des Moines River Water Trail

The Lower Des Moines River Water Trail from Eldon to Farmington is approx. 43 miles with 8 access points for put in’s and take outs. It flows through lowland lush forests of large sycamore and cottonwood trees. There are limestone cliffs with interesting geology and archaeological features. The first 14 miles are straight corridors with steep banks, then several 90 degree and horseshoe bends occur downstream.There are several historic river villages along the river on the lower sections in Van Buren County.

Classified:
Meandered Stream: Meandered means private property begins at the high water mark, typically where vegetation grows. Sandbar camping is allowed.

Skills Needed: Beginner, Intermediate and advanced levels, section dependent. It is important to download or acquire a map (see below) so you can be aware of the changes in difficulty.

River drop:
< 2 feet per mile

Features:
Lowland forests, limestone cliffs, sandstone outcrops, interesting geology features, historic towns. Will need to be aware of upstream water releases at Lake Red Rock before paddle trip begins.

Possible wildlife views of:
Great Blue Heron, Eagles, rare bird species, warblers, vireos, tanagers, whip-poor-wills.

Fish:
Invasive Asian carp that reach up to 60 pounds with 4-15 pounds as average. They can be a safety hazard, if struck.

To learn more specific information, connect to these links.
http://iowawatertrails.org

Brochures and maps: can be downloaded and paper copies can be picked up at assorted Conservation offices and Nature Centers.
Go to https://www.iowadnr.gov/ for online viewing.

A good way to plan your trip is by using the IDNR Interactive Mapping Services resource. Go to the IMS Guide for instructions on how to use the Interactive Mapping Services, or access the IMS directly by going to Recreation Map at https://www.iowadnr.gov/

Monthly Feature: Get acquainted with a Water Trail: Boone River

The Boone River Water Trail is described as a wild and intimate river flowing through a narrow, wooded corridor. It is an approximate 26 mile section in Hamilton County beginning in Webster City with six access points for put ins and take outs.

Described in “Paddling Iowa” as one of “Central Iowa’s best paddling streams”.

Classified: Non- Meandered Stream:

Non-Meandered means: land on both sides of river and river bed are privately owned, except where marked “public”. Please respect private property while using.

Skills: Intermediate level paddling skills recommended.

River drop: 3-9 feet per mile

Features:
Rock rapids, deep woods, narrow valleys, wooded bluffs, sandstone cliffs, fast and long riffle runs, runs mostly clear

Possible wildlife views of:
Great Blue Heron, Double Breasted Cormorant, Cliff Swallows, Hawks, Eagles, River Otters, Beaver, Mussels, and Shore Birds

Fishing: Catfish and Small mouth Bass

To learn more specific information, connect to these links. http://iowawatertrails.org

Brochures and maps: can be downloaded and paper copies can be picked up at assorted Conservation offices and Nature Centers.Go to https://www.iowadnr.gov/ for online viewing.

A good way to plan your trip is by using the IDNR Interactive Mapping Services resource.

Go to the IMS Guide for instructions on how to use the Interactive Mapping Services, or access the IMS directly by going to Recreation Map at https://www.iowadnr.gov/

Briggs Wood, Boone River
 Photo by Gregg Stark 

This Spring, Paddle a Restored Stretch of the Maquoketa River

By DNR Staff

Paddlers floating from Backbone State Park to Manchester this spring will discover a new segment of the Maquoketa River — 3,200 feet of brand-new channel — meandering through a grassy meadow before dropping down a class II-III rapids through a rocky gorge. The new section was excavated, constructed, and planted over two years and completed in late December, 2018.

As canoeists and kayakers wind through the new section of river, a bit of reflection is fine tribute to the private landowners who made the project possible. Willard and Marcia Hawker had owned the dam and most of the lake bed as private citizens since 1998, when they bought it from Alliant Energy. Originally, Willard was interested in the lake-like Quaker Mill Pond upstream of the dam becoming a waterfowl preserve.

The restored river replaces both the old Quaker Mill Dam and lake. In 2010, an
earthen portion of dam broke for the second time in two years. The pond had been
filling in with silt. Homeowners along it noticed floods seemed to be getting worse until
the dike breached, draining the floodwaters. The county engineer had concerns with the
route the river carved below the breach, where it diverted under a bridge for Honey
Creek, a county road bridge not designed for a stream as large as the Maquoketa River.

Willard, an avid outdoorsman who believed deeply in conservation, decided the dam
had served its purpose and it was time for change. He asked for help from Iowa DNR
river programs and fisheries. The DNR helped form a partnership among the
landowners, fish biologists, the Delaware County Engineer, and Iowa DNR to determine
what to do. After a year of survey and analysis and communication with neighbors at Delaware Board of Supervisors meetings, the partners decided to remove the dam,
excavate a pilot channel through the old lake bed, and close off the breached area to
send the river back where the high concrete dam had stood since 1914. It was all
less expensive than the county constructing a properly sized bridge, and had the
advantage of lowering the 100-year floodplain for neighboring landowners.

Full design, planning and permitting took several years. Hawker increasingly became concerned he might not live long enough to see the project he  had come to believe in. As phase 1 of the project began construction in 2017, he and Marcia could often be seen watching the dam removed from a prominent vantage point.

Meanwhile, Willard announced his intention to donate land for an access to Delaware
County Conservation Board, the sponsor of the county portion of the Maquoketa River
Water Trail. ” Willard kept telling us all the way through just to do the right thing and that he trustedus to get it right,” said Nate Hoogeveen, River Programs Coordinator for the Iowa
Department of Natural Resources. “This project reduced a dam hazard, allowed fish
passage, conserved surrounding land, restored the river, and added a new public
access for a new water trail.  It’s humbling to be a part of a project that responds to so
many of tomorrows hopes and dreams for our rivers. Even more so when you get to
work with an individual like Willard.”

Willard Hawker was diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer during the holiday
season of 2018, just as the restoration project wrapped up. While in hospice, he
requested that word be sent to the DNR to make sure the final seeding was done in
time for spring. He passed away on Jan. 12, 2019, surrounded by family, at age 87.

Willard and Marcia Hawker