Staff with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Cedar Wapsi Wildlife Unit were working to install wetlands on the Cedar Rock Wildlife Area when the opportunity to restore an oxbow on the Wapsipinicon River came along.
“There are not a lot of oxbow ecosystems out there and they are difficult to restore,” said Jason Auel, wildlife biologist with the Iowa DNR. “This would not have been possible without federal partnership and federal funding – it was not a cheap restoration.”
The oxbow restoration was selected as a flood mitigation project by the Upper Wapsi River Watershed Management Authority. It identified a six-acre oxbow filled in by five feet of siltation to be excavated to its original riverbed. It would be connected to the Wapsipinicon River on the south end.
Contractors worked during the winter and eventually removed roughly 26,000 cubic yards of silt. That material would be used by Buchanan County for fill as part of its Quasqueton Diagonal road expansion project and incorporated back to Cedar Rock Wildlife Area as part of the restored prairie.
As soon as the oxbow was holding water, the wetland plants returned – arrowhead, bidens, smartweed, cattails. The improved habitat is benefitting ducks, geese, turtles, frogs and more. All that remains for the project is for the last of the excavated silt material to be removed for the highway project and the disturbed area seeded to prairie.
Away from the river, the management plan includes restoring prairie on the old crop fields and then eventually creating an oak savanna using seedlings from the State Forest Nursery. The young oaks were planted in the prairie, then caged to give the young trees a head start. Once the trees are established, the cages will be removed to let Mother Nature take its course.
Auel said the next step is to create a forest management plan to address the tree community on the wildlife area and the adjacent state park.
“It’s a fairly well used public hunting for deer and turkey,” he said.
The maintained firebreaks cover around 2.5 miles and are popular places to take a walk along the prairie and through the timber.
The 153-acre Cedar Rock Wildlife Area is near Cedar Rock State Park, which is home to the Walter House, a home designed by noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright and gifted to the Iowa Conservation Commission in 1981 by Lowell and Agnes Walter.