Changing river scene requires updated Quasqueton sign

Town no longer to be "the friendliest town by a dam site"

Orlan Love
Published: March 12 2014 | 4:30 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:31 am in

QUASQUETON -- A sign in the park proclaiming "the friendliest town by a dam site" will soon have to be updated -- not because the town is any less friendly but because, with its soon to be completed rock arch rapids, it is no longer by a dam site.

The dam, once the town’s signature feature, has been incorporated into a 300-foot-long series of nine descending rock weirs, whose overall appearance snapped into focus this week when the Wapsipinicon River, fed by snowmelt, began to rise enough to showcase the numerous cascades that will characterize the completed rock arch rapids.

“It’s beautiful,” said local artist Donna Wolfe, who painted the sign in Veterans Memorial Park that awaits modification.

Wolfe, who has already painted over the old tagline, said she is open to suggestions as to what the new one should say.

Mayor Chad Staton said he hopes that residents who have objected to the project will change their minds now that they can get a sense of its final appearance.

Most of the objections, he said, have concerned how the project will affect fishing in what has been a popular spot both with local anglers and campers in the park.

Those objections seemed valid during the early construction, when 12,000 tons of rock were deposited in a 100-yard stretch of river that was, as it usually is in winter, at a level far below normal.

For most of the winter, the Wapsipinicon has registered 4.5 feet on the nearest gauge, 10 miles upstream at Independence. It stood at 4.7 feet Wednesday, still well below the 5-foot level that is common during the summer.

To onlookers watching the project’s progress, with only a few inches of water flowing across the rock, it seemed there would be little room for fish.

Most of those rocks have since been shaped into a series of weirs, each creating downstream pools that now, with the river rising toward a more normal level, hold ample water to shelter fish, according to Aaron Steber, a hydrologist with the project’s engineering firm, Cardno JFNew of Fitchburg, Wis.

In addition to the pools below the weirs, three deeper pools dug out of the river bed will provide more fish holding capacity, Steber said.

More boulders and boulder clusters will also be randomly positioned to create fish-holding pockets of calmer water, he said.

Midstream gaps in the weirs have been left to allow kayakers and canoeists to paddle through the rapids, Steber said.

The old dam was lowered 4 inches in a 120-foot-wide midstream section to facilitate the passage of both fish and vessels, but that lowering will not affect river levels upstream, according to Steber.

The first weir, just downstream of the dam, is at the same height as the original dam and will control upstream water levels, he said.

“Over the long haul, the improved fish passage will benefit the fishery. For most species, natural reproduction will go up,” he said.

With most of the in-stream work completed ahead of the annual spring river rise, contractor Jim Gallery of Winthrop has turned his attention to shaping the west bank and preparing it for the planting of vegetation and the installation of a riverside flagstone path above the dam.

“The idea is to make it look like a natural rapids. In a couple of years, when the vegetation is well established, people are going to really like it,” Steber said.

Among anticipated benefits of the $403,000 project, the constructed rapids will eliminate dangerous undertows created by the dam, improve fish passage, enhance aesthetics and recreational opportunities and relieve local taxpayers of future dam maintenance expenses.

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