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Thurman, Iowa - Sitting 30 miles south of Council Bluffs is a been-here-forever, old school kind of place that has been attracting duck hunters from across southwest Iowa for more than 100 years. Forney Lake Wildlife Area, acquired by the State of Iowa from the Forney family in 1943, has become a 1,317-acre public land mix of natural wetlands and Loess Hills bluffs, bisected by Bluff Road, in northwest Fremont County.
On this early June morning at the gravel boat ramp on the south side of the wetland, the calm water surface comes alive from the entry splash of nervous bullfrogs. Looking to the northwest, a lone pelican is cruising through the middle of the marsh. The calls of sora rails hidden in the emergent vegetation can be heard.
Forney Lake’s 570-acre marsh is home to mink, muskrats, raccoons, beaver, yellow headed blackbirds, Wilson's phalarope, American avocets, a variety of ducks and geese and more. It frequently hosts 50,000 plus snow geese on their trip north in the spring. It’s visited by groups of white-faced ibis. A pair of bald eagles have established a nest overlooking Little Forney.
While deciding what to do at Forney Lake Wildlife Area can be a challenge, the decision to visit should be a no-brainer. From hiking to kayaking, wildlife watching, hunting and fishing, Forney Lake Wildlife Area can fill a weekend’s worth of activities.
“I’ve never seen anyone kayaking the marsh but it would be a pretty sweet kayaking place,” said Matt Dollison, wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
The east side of the area is a rugged mix of prairie and timber encompassing the west edge of the Loess Hills and adjoins Fremont County’s 90-acre Forney Lake tract that supports populations of six-lined race runners, northern prairie skinks, graham’s crayfish snake, plains spadefoot toad, bobcats, deer and a few turkeys. Regal fritillary and wild indigo duskywing butterflies are here too.
Hiking to the top of the bluff provides excellent views of the wetland below. There’s a small pond fishable for anglers willing to carry in their gear. Hiking and exploring the hills can be done with little competition, outside of mushroom season. Just bring water and plenty of bug spray.
Flood of 2019
Sitting two miles east of the Missouri River, Forney Lake Wildlife Area has been impacted by flooding from the big river and evidence remains from the devastating flood of 2019.
Flood waters destroyed the diverse prairie around the fringe of the wetlands and seedlings round the big marsh, damaged the two pumps and pump houses on the main Forney Lake wetland, and deposited gas tanks, an anhydrous tank, docks, patios and even a power boat on the area. The US EPA removed more than 100 containers as part of the cleanup.
The western part of Forney Lake wildlife Area is a 314-acre waterfowl refuge providing a place for ducks and geese to rest on their annual fall migration. The refuge is closed to all access from Sept. 1 until after the duck season closes, then is open to hunting non-waterfowl species and other recreational use.