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Quietly wild, there’s more to Black Hawk Marsh than meets the eye

  • 8/8/2017 1:38:00 PM
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Lake View, Iowa - Lake View is a small town with a big outdoors reputation. Case in point: the Black Hawk Marsh Wildlife Management Area (WMA).

There's something for everyone to enjoy at Black Hawk Lake Marsh Wildlife Management Area | Iowa DNRThis 1,260-plus-acre public area in southern Sac County has a mix of marshes, reclaimed gravel pits, timber, prairie and food plots pieced together like a large puzzle stretching 2.5 miles south of town.

Looking southwest from Quincey Avenue toward County Road M68, the size and scale of Black Hawk Marsh is impressive.

“We have something here for everyone,” said Clint Maddix, wildlife biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “If you can’t find a spot to recreate on a busy weekend, you aren’t trying hard enough.”

The marsh is a stopover on the migration route for ducks and geese, with some shorebirds mixed in in the spring. A bald eagle has built a nest overlooking the marsh that is visible when the leaves are off the trees. Black Hawk Marsh is on the birding trail and rare wildlife, like Blanding’s turtles, call it home. 

Black Hawk Marsh benefits from a maze of water canals created by sand and gravel exploration. A network of unmarked gravel lanes snakes through the area providing access to hidden boat ramps and secret fishing spots. There’s an equestrian trail which follows the Game Road through the Game Reserve, as the old timers call it, which is an access road that a many people enjoy just driving to feel close to nature. During morel mushroom season, the Game Road will be dotted with vehicles parked off to the side while their drivers search the timber for the highly prized fungi.

“The Game Road gets a lot of use, but some locals may not even know it’s here,” Maddix said.

One of the largest abandoned quarries - the narrow, mile long Arrowhead Lake - received game fish collected from nearby Black Hawk Lake before the fish population was eliminated in 2012. Arrowhead Lake has protected and secluded water that is popular with paddlers and paddle boaters.

The west side of Black Hawk Marsh is adjacent to the Sauk Rail trail; a paved 33-mile long recreation trail connecting Swan Lake, southeast of Carroll, to Black Hawk Lake, at Lake View, giving trail users an unobstructed view of the area and the wildlife and people who use it.


Hitting Reset on the Lake and Marsh

Black Hawk Lake, the southernmost glacial lake in Iowa, had been suffering from poor water quality, a carp and buffalo dominated fishery and its adjacent marsh was filled with silt and void of vegetation.

In 2012, Iowa was experiencing a significant drought that dried the marshes and lowered the lake level to the point where the DNR believed it could successfully eliminate the remaining fish population and start over.

Restoring Black Hawk Marsh – Inlet Bay, a natural water filter for the lake – was identified in a pre-renovation study as key for the project to succeed. The study predicted that dredging the inlet could reduce the phosphorus delivery to the lake by up to 60 percent.

To get the marsh to function properly, it would need to have the silt removed and vegetation restored so water flowing through it could be slowed, silt allowed to settle out and the nutrients used by the vegetation.

Dredging began in 2017 and is about 40 percent complete.

Plans call for the dredge to work back to where Carnarvon Creek enters the inlet on the south end to allow the boat ramp to be useable by hunters and paddlers. The ramp allows hunters quick access to kayak the inlet and creek channel to hunt wood ducks in remote areas of the marsh. Maddix said these areas hold a lot of wood ducks and if hunters are willing to try something different, they can potentially take home a limit of woodies about any time during the season.

With the rough fish gone, cattails have returned stretching up 6-10 feet above the marsh bottom.

“We have the ability to conduct annual water drawdowns on State Marsh and DU Marsh which allows the marsh to revegetate, provides waterfowl food and escape cover, sequesters nutrients and prevents the resuspension of bottom materials,” he said.

The project has been supported by local community volunteers who help with brush removal and clean-ups, and the Lake Protection Association and City of Lake View, who are interested in urban conservation practices and watershed work. 

“Many watershed improvements have been made on private property with the help of TJ Lynn, the Black Hawk Lake watershed coordinator whose position is funded through a 319 Watershed Improvement Grant,” Maddix said.


New acquisitions

That restoration mindset also applies to newer acquisitions at the marsh. Land that had been row crops for generations are being converted back to wetlands and prairies. Some areas have food plots; some are being converted from crop land and seeded to prairie as part of a 10 year plan. Several shallow water excavations are planned that will add additional wetland acres to the area.

“We want to lead by example,” Maddix said. “Ground that may not be best suited for growing crops is great at growing wildlife habitat.”


Timber invaders

The forested areas at Black Hawk Marsh are home to the unwanted invasive plants honeysuckle and buckthorn.

Maddix and staff are battling the tree and brush pests through a combination of spraying and grinding. Occasionally, he will get a call from someone who saw the dead trees and shrubs and wants to know what’s going on.

“Once we explain what we are doing and why, their complaint usually goes away,” he said.

Take in the views at Black Hawk Marsh Wildlife Management Area | Iowa DNR