Groups joining forces to save ‘cosmic’ waters

Orlan Love
Published: July 31 2012 | 6:55 am - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 10:25 pm in

CAMP KLAUS — Visitors to this northeast Iowa Boy Scouts camp first hear the soothing murmur of water tumbling over rock. Then they feel the refreshing coolness of air chilled by 50-degree water springing from a jumble of limestone monoliths. Finally they see the water itself, 1,000 foamy gallons per minute cascading from the stone walls of a natural amphitheater into the bed of Brownfield Creek.

“It is one of the most cosmic places in Iowa,” said Doug Hawker, a Department of Natural Resources environmental technician.

Keeping it cosmic is the intent of a watershed protection project undertaken recently by several state and county agencies and private partners.

“We need to save some important natural resources for future generations,” said Wayne Brunsman, a technician with the Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The district is working with its counterpart in Clayton County to protect the watersheds of two trout streams — Pine Creek and Steeles Branch — that flow through parts of both counties between Edgewood and Colesburg. The two agencies have received a $11,600 grant from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to assess the watersheds’ farming practices, water quality, aquatic life and the fractured limestone bedrock that accounts for the area’s scenic beauty and its fragile environment.

When assessments have been completed later this year, they will apply for an official watershed project designation, which entails cost-share funds for landowners to adopt conservation practices, Brunsman said.

“The landowners are the key players. This is a voluntary approach that works only if they see the need and get involved,” said Keith Krause, a district conservationist with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The 7,171-acre Pine Creek watershed includes Brownfield Creek, which has been designated as one of 36 Outstanding Iowa Waters.

Both the Pine Creek watershed and the nearly connected 6,013-acre Steeles Branch watershed are perforated with sinkholes, many of which breathe icy air into microclimates that foster survival of rare plants and animals — notably, the northern monkshood plant and the Pleistocene snail.

Several of the watersheds’ cold air slopes are protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge.

The deterioration of John Deere Lake, an impoundment of Brownfield Creek and the focal point of many scouting activities at the 211-acre Camp C.S. Klaus, prompted the interest in establishing the watershed project.

When it was built in 1977, it covered 12 acres to a maximum depth of 32 feet. Sedimentation from surrounding farm fields has since shrunk it to seven acres with a maximum depth of 20 feet.

The Scouts’ plan to dredge the lake will be more effective if future sedimentation is controlled, Krause said.

Apart from protecting trout streams, additional conservation practices in the watershed — such as ponds, terraces and grassed waterways — would help protect ground water, said State Geologist Bob Libra.

The region’s karst topography, which manifests itself in caves, sinkholes and springs, provides numerous direct pipelines into the ground water, said Libra, one of several environmental experts speaking at a July 19 informational meeting at the camp.

Though fisheries data within the two watersheds is sparse, said DNR fisheries biologist Dan Kirby, a sampling protocol is being prepared to document the extent and health of the streams’ aquatic life.

Brownfield Creek, he said, supports naturally reproducing brown trout — an indicator of good water quality in the stream and underground.

Water-quality data from the two watersheds is sketchy at best, said Mary Skopec, a monitoring and assessment expert with the DNR’s Geological Survey Bureau. Plans have been formulated to establish a solid base line of water-quality data, with sampling set to occur at six sites, she said.

Camp Klaus opened in 1956 on land eventually deeded to the Scouts by Clifton and Sophie Klaus. It is open to the public from September through May, with the summer months reserved for Scout activities.

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