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Rugged and wild, Kirke Woods Wildlife Area is central Iowa’s newest public wilderness

  • 6/13/2023 1:10:00 PM
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Kirke Woods Wildlife Area, north of Bevington in northeast Madison County, is a new 240-acre mix of oak and hickory timber, and maple and cottonwood bottomlands, a reconstructed prairie and a 30-acre wetland that is open to the public.

“We’re pretty excited to have Kirke Woods,” said Chad Paup, wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Places like this around metro areas are important because it gives a large population access to wild places.”

The initial 240 acres of Kirke Woods was acquired in November 2022. It was part of a nearly 700-acre section of rugged and hilly land acquired by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation in 2019.

A second tract was approved for purchase at the June 8 meeting of the Natural Resource Commission. The remaining parcel is enrolled in the Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP) and is currently the only way to access the property off Wind Wood Trail.

Land enrolled in IHAP is open to the public from Sept. 1 to May 1 each year, and only for hunting and trapping purposes.

An old, overgrown lane, riddled with downed trees, begins at the entrance gate and extends to the west end of the property. It also serves as a readymade fire break.

“We will develop a forest management plan with the district forester to assess what we have, then will hire contractors to do the work to enhance what we have here,” Paup said.

Part of that work will include removing invasive species, thinning of the understory, and opening up the canopy in selective areas for oak regeneration, Paup said. The habitat supports birds, amphibians, reptiles, bats, deer, squirrels, turkeys and butterflies and more and be managed to benefit woodland species.

The reconstructed prairie covers more than 100 acres and has prairie bush clover, leadplant, rattlesnake master, coreopsis and more. 

Hilly and thick with vegetation, this soon-to-be favorite go to spot for deer and turkey hunters, hikers and bird watchers will not be a secret much longer.

“A 600-plus-acre contiguous piece in Madison County is a gem,” Paup said. “It’s a special place.”