Work Continues on the Log Jam

The DNR professional work crew continues to remove additional large wood from the debris dam, including a large stump that was plugging the channel. They also continue to lengthen the active floodplain bench. This “bench” serves as a narrow and low platform for high water to occupy as needed.

Despite the snow and icy conditions, the work crew will continue to make progress. We will keep you updated through the winter season. Imagine how wonderful it would be if we could paddle through this section next spring?!

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Skunk Log Jam Progress

A massive log jam on the Skunk River is well known by anyone paddling the river below Anderson Access. Prior to work this fall, it was approximately a city-block wide and one-half block long with no clear channel for water to move through. Late last fall, DNR crews and a contractor, after securing the necessary permits, began to address flow in the channel. In a manner that would be sensitive to aquatic species and habitat, a narrow channel was re-established through most of the log jam and a low, active floodplain was reconstructed.

A public work day was held at the site on November 4th with approximately 35 county residents & ISU students participating. Volunteers planted dormant trees and shrubs, sedge divisions and scattered native wetland seed mixes. The afternoon was a great chance to learn about the log jam, which is on private property, and help restore a native vegetation community at the river’s edge.

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Historical Event

Please join us this Sunday at 1pm for a discussion with former conservation director Steve Lekwa. Steve will discuss the proposed 1970s dam and why it was not constructed. We will be meeting at Dean and Denise Biechler’s home, located at 56699 160th Street in Ames.

Map to Biechler Residence

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Great Day on the Skunk

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Jim explains how the timbers he is standing on provided the base of the original dam

Yesterday was a great day on the Skunk–this time using a foot path rather than a water trail. Local historian Jim Graham led a short hike to the site of the former Hannum’s Mill dam site north of Ames. The low water levels allowed participants to see exposed timbers from the crib-wall design of the mid 1800’s dam still in place. Jim also explained that remnants of the old mill can still be occasionally found in the stream. The exposed limestone outcroppings at this site reminded all of us why this section of the river is so important to protect and preserve.

One important and outstanding aspect of the Skunk River community in Story County is their willingness to engage people and issues they find on the river. Skunk River Paddlers and others are constantly removing the trash others leave and debris from the river while they float and hike. The Skunk River Navy, an ISU student-led organization, is also a significant resource in keeping the Skunk and other rivers clean. Landowners and other users understand and really appreciate their help!

See a drawing of Hannum’s Mill dam and read more about it at the Ames Historical Society webpage:http://www.ameshistoricalsociety.org/pdf/AHSNewsletter_3_07.pdf

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This mother & son team helped carry trash back from the dam site.

 

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Join Us for history of Hannum’s Mill Dam on the Skunk!

Next Saturday, October 6th2pm @ General Filter/Hannum’s Mill site • Meet at the Sleepy Hollow Boat Launch on Riverside Drive for 10 minute hike to the site. Local historian Jim Graham discusses the history of the dam and interprets remaining elements visible due to low water conditions. Closed-toe shoes and long pants recommended due to poison ivy. Fishing demonstrations & assistance provided.

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Portage Improvements at Hannum’s Mill Dam

Graded launch prepared for crushed rock surface

If you have recently been paddling along the Skunk River and noticed new construction, you could very well be paddling by Hannum’s Mill. The Iowa DNR Rivers program recently designed and installed a new egress above the Hannum’s Mill dam. The Conservation CORPS also helped with the installation. The new ramp is intended as a take out to allow for a safe portage around the dam.

Hog Slat Installation

The ramp surface is crushed rock with embedded hog slats for added stability. The hog slats are a great alternative to concrete because small machinery can install them and they can produce the same effect.The slats also provide for Universal Design and accessibility. The open spaces throughout the hog slats allow for water during rainstorms to filter into those spaces and soak into the ground surface. This improvement is a great step towards improving safety around dams and usability of access sites.

Completed Launch at Hannum’s Mill

Completed launch with embedded hog slats

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River Stewards Work on Skunk River near Ames…

Iowa Master River Stewards is a new volunteer opportunity to learn about rivers and take action to improve watershed conditions. Last month, volunteers worked with (retired) Professor Jim Pease near Ames on the South Skunk River learning how to find and identify aquatic insects and fish as a way to understand water quality conditions of a stream reach.

The River Stewards, similar to the Master Conservationist program in Iowa, teams up interested volunteers with technical experts on various river topics such as policy, water chemistry, watersheds and stream restoration. The 2012 program is the first of an expected annual offering.  Read this blog post from Todd Roberston for more information about the program.

The group also learned how diversity of species present relates to the habitat in the stream channel, the near-stream zone and its watershed. Although the groups did not track the species or quantities they found, they did report finding many stoneflies and other insects such as dragonflies, damselflies, caddisflies, etc. They even found some young mussels of one species.

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Valued Wildlife Along the Skunk

As we reflect on the interest of bald eagles along the Skunk River, we have been thinking about other unique wildlife found along the Skunk. What are some species you appreciate seeing near the river while walking, paddling, driving, or biking? What species would you like to see more often?

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Seeing More Eagles on the Skunk

ISU Wildlife Care Clinic in Ames works with injured animals including eagles

A participant in our April public meetings noted they are observing more bald eagles flying over the Skunk River in winters south of Story City. She wondered if the birds were scouting for new nest sites in the area.  We followed up with (retired) ISU Professor Jim Pease. He offered the following thoughts…

“While they MAY be scouting for nest sites, I find it more likely they are simply taking advantage (especially this last winter) of the open water and ability to find fish.  This past winter, we didn’t see the aggregations of eagles around dams and other open water sites like we have in past years.  There were probably still 4,000+ eagles overwintering in the state, but they were more spread out.  Further, even if they were scouting, it’s highly unlikely that water trail activity–e.g. more paddlers on the river–would disrupt their nesting.  They’ve already chosen to nest in Iowa, along inland rivers, often very close to or in metropolitan areas.  They are either getting used to us or they were never as picky about disturbance as we once thought they were.  Just how disturbance prone they are will, I think, be answered over the next few years as we go beyond the 300 nests in Iowa threshold.  Fascinating.”

Thanks Jim!

Volunteers at the Wildlife Care Clinic in Ames released several recovered eagles this spring at McFarland Park near the Skunk River.

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Public Meeting Recap

Fifty people participated in public meetings kicking-off the designation process for the Skunk River State Water Trail effort on April 17th and 19th. Information presented at the meeting included …

(a)    How this will change the existing water trail? (no physical changes will occur in how the river is used)

(b)   Will more people use the water trail if it is designated? (new users would likely be paddlers coming from outside the local community, rather than local people purchasing disposable float toys or renting boats)

(c)    What are the benefits of state designation? (the water trail becomes eligible for grants and technical assistance from Iowa DNR, interactive marketing through the state water trails website, and economic development from increased visitors from out of the area)

(d)    What does the project include? (new wayfinding signage at access points, hazard warning signs for the 2 dams in Story County, selection of trail classification rating for each segment, technical inventory of existing access points, law enforcement & rescue-provider coordination)

Overall, adjacent landowners are interested in efforts to make the river experience more educational and fun for users. Some described past incidents with disoriented, unprepared, and sometimes unruly paddlers or tubers. An important theme emerging from the meetings was to find ways to enhance the amount of surveillance on the river to decrease undesirable behavior. It was also important to landowners that no new regulations on land use or land cover would occur as a result of this designation.

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