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Eastern Iowa’s newest public wildlife area is also one of its most popular.
“When you come there, you’re going to find a beautiful lake with clean, clear water, quality fishing, bird and wildlife viewing and a restored prairie on rolling hills,” said Curt Kemmerer, wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “It’s a great place to recharge or connect with nature just a few miles from 400,000 people.”
Lost Grove Wildlife Area offers 1,300 acres of mostly rolling restored prairie surrounding a 400-acre highly productive lake designed with anglers and paddlers in mind.
At midday in the middle of the week in late May, Lost Grove Wildlife Area had nearly 40 vehicles in three parking lots with visitors fishing, paddling, hiking and even a few swimming as part of their triathlon training.
“There’s something here for everyone – fishing, hunting, trapping, hiking, paddling,” Kemmerer said.
Lost Grove Wildlife Area grew out of the hills of northern Scott County after a statewide study identified it as a location that was lacking in outdoor recreation. Once the site was selected, willing sellers began offering their land for sale almost immediately. The bulk of the land was acquired from 1988 to 1995, with the final parcel coming in 2003.
Drawing from a population based in the Quad Cities, Clinton and Cedar Rapids, Iowa State University’s Center for Agriculture and Rural Development estimated the economic impact of Lost Grove Wildlife Area and lake would be around $20 million annually.
Once completed, it didn’t take long for hunters, anglers, hikers, paddlers to fill the parking lots.
“There are days when there are more paddlers on the lake than motorized boats,” Kemmerer said. “It’s wildly popular among the paddlers.”
Tucked in the protected Back Cast Bay is a carry down access designed specifically for paddlers, a few feet from a paved parking lot. The bay has a trail along shore with few trees to snare a wayward bobber. It offers excellent shore fishing access and a popular fishing jetty.
Lost Grove Lake was stocked with bluegills, redear sunfish, crappies, largemouth bass channel catfish, walleye and muskellunge. With 13 sediment catching ponds and much of the watershed in prairie, the water clarity is excellent.
The lake was built with fishing in mind – gravel spawning beds, rock fields, hardwood trees placed throughout and miles of shoreline available to fish. The lake has universally accessible shoreline, three fishing jetties, three fishing platforms, three boat ramps each with a latrine and fish cleaning station. It also has a boat passage box culvert under the causeway providing the only access to “Causeway Impoundment” on the lakes upper end for boaters and paddlers.
While the lake receives most of the attention in the spring and summer, on Sept. 1, the focus shifts to hunting and specifically the dove fields.
“Every year we put in six or seven fields, some larger, some smaller – ranging from 2-4 acres up to eight acres. There’s a plot or two in every section. It helps to spread people out,” Kemmerer said. “Hunter turnout can be impressive on opening day. We had seven fields last year and the area hit the 100 vehicle mark on opening weekend.”
The popularity of dove season here is only exceeded by popularity of its pheasant season.
“There’s a good pheasant population out here and it gets an absolute ton of use during pheasant season,” he said. “Group after group, coming and going, all day long.”
The pheasant population is there because of the area’s focus on grassland management.
Most of the 1,300 acres consist of a diverse mix of wildflowers and native grasses creating high quality upland habitat. Kemmerer uses prescribed fire as a management tool burning 200-300 acres each year to rejuvenate the prairie and to keep the trees out.
“We’re not blessed with a lot of grassland acres in the part of the state so we’re working to keep the area in grass,” he said.
To manage an area of this size takes teamwork and at Lost Grove, the Iowa DNR’s Wildlife and Fisheries bureaus team up with Scott County Conservation Board who helps with the weekly maintenance.
Dog Trial Area
One unique feature at Lost Grove is its dog trial area.
The 100-plus acres at the furthest northwest part of the area is heavily used by professional dog trainers on down to someone who just wants to get their dog some exercise. A pond sits about 100 yards from the parking lot that is a popular place to train retrievers.
“There’s someone here every day,” Kemmerer said. “People are hungry for an area to work their dogs.”