- Photos by Jeff Saltzman
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Iowa’s “Black Gold”

This is the first of a series of articles written by the Red Rock Lake Association’s “Save the Lake Committee”, by Mark Thompson

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When European settlers first arrived in what is now Iowa, they encountered a vast sea of grasses and flowers, with scattered woodlands bordering the many streams and rivers.  The north-central part was dotted with numerous wetlands, holdovers from the last glacial event in the state.  Over 85% of the state was a prairie landscape that was described as a place rich in form, life, and color, and a mecca for wildlife.  The first settlers assumed that if the majority of the land was too poor to grow trees, it was surely too poor to grow much in the way of crops. For a long time, homes were built in the wooded areas and the forests were laboriously cleared as they were back in Europe.  They failed to see that trees grew on the prairie’s poorest soils, a thin veneer of fertility that would erode over time when there were no longer trees to stabilize it.  In central Iowa, as late as 1847, prairie was selling for $3 to $10 per acre while timberland sold for $30 to $50.

In spite of the prairie’s strangeness and struggles, pioneer families soon found that it was where the action was.  They left the trees, built sod houses and soon began to find out what the land really offered – deep fertile soil.  This legacy was developed by the deep penetrating roots of the prairie species and was responsible for development of a thick, black layer of topsoil – Iowa’s “Black Gold.”

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Had they known the world’s most fertile soil lay under these grasslands early on, it would have made little difference.  There were no tools available to the new settlers that could be used to plow through the thick prairie sod.  Soon, there were plowmen who would break your claim for $12.25 per acre with a “breaking plow” a huge device drawn by five yoke of oxen that cut a furrow three feet wide.  The moldboard was seven feet long.  A giant breakthrough came in 1837 when a fellow named John Deere from Illinois invented his new prairie plow.  It was a walking plow that could be drawn through the prairie’s sod with a three-horse team.  A farmer could break the dense sod with amazing efficiency.  One man and his team working for only two months could have an “eighty” (eighty acres) broken and planted with sod corn.  Even though it might be years before the grassroots had completely rotted and the soil became rich, smooth, loam, it was well worth it for farming.  Even though these new technologies made some of the most productive land in the world available to farmers, it also marked the end of the Iowa prairie.  By the beginning of the 20th century, the Iowa prairie was essentially gone.  Though the 30 million acres of prairie in Iowa took thousands of years to develop, nearly all was converted to agricultural land in less than 80 years.

Next week’s article will be “What is Soil and How Did Iowa’s Greatest Resource Form?”

photos: top, earthromdom.com/ mid,cau250i

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Lake Red Rock Programs for February


Winter’s Wonders Snowshoe
Sat., Feb. 22 – 10:00 a.m. – Meet at North Overlook Picnic
Getting cabin fever yet?  Strap on a pair of snowshoes and get outside!
Join a quest for winter wildlife and the signs they leave behind.  Search for
animal tracks, birds foraging for food,  mouse tunnels, and other wildlife
activity.  After the walk, meet back at the picnic shelter for cocoa by the
fireplace!  Snowshoes will be available for checkout free of charge – wear snow
boots for the best fit.  The walk will last about an hour.  If there is not
enough snow for snowshoeing, a “snowshoeless” winter hike will be

Programs are free of charge and no reservations are needed.
Outdoor programs may be cancelled if there’s inclement weather.  For more
information, call the Corps of Engineers office at 641-828-7522 or 641-628-8690
or via email at lakeredrock@usace.army.mil

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“National Water Trail” Designation for Lake Red Rock

kayakers on Red Rock

The Red Rock Trail at Lake Red Rock, Knoxville, Iowa, has officially been
designated as a National Water Trail by the National Park Service. Joining the
Red Rock Trail is The Island Loop Route Water Trail in Michigan and The Missouri
National Recreation River Water Trail that flows through South Dakota, Nebraska
and Iowa. These three trails join 11 previously dedicated water trails across
the country.

“These national water trails provide exemplary close-to-home
places for people to explore and enjoy,” said National Park Service Director
Jonathan B. Jarvis. “And I am particularly happy to have these trails added to
the system. They are cooperatively supported and sustained through the efforts
of community, state and federal partners.”

The Red Rock Water Trail is a
36-mile loop on scenic Lake Red Rock. Boaters and paddlers can see rocky cliffs
and bluffs, a variety of wildlife, a sea cave and much more. Also along the
trail are many historical landmarks, and sites of historical events.  There are
eight access points that are conveniently located near the campgrounds at Lake
Red Rock.

“Paddlers are treated to spectacular views of bluffs, hardwood
forests, a multitude of wildlife and Iowa’s largest lake,” said Park Ranger
Tracy Spry.  “Amazingly, paddlers are found using the water trail during all
months of the year, as long as the lake isn’t frozen.”

The trail is
managed by Lake Red Rock in partnership with the Red Rock Lake Association, who
is a cooperating association.

National Water Trails are designated by the
Secretary of the Interior and are part of the National Trails System,
administered by the National Park Service in partnership with a wide range of
federal agencies. Designation of national water trails helps to strengthen local
efforts for recreation, conservation and restoration of America’s waterways and
surrounding lands.

National water trails are the pathways of rivers,
lakes and bays, providing a connection for current and future generations to the
nature, history and adventure that can be found on the water.

Explore the
entire National Water Trails System online through a dynamic collection of
videos, stories and pictures at http://www.nps.gov/watertrails/


  (photo by Diane Michaud Lowry)

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3M Makes Large Contribution to Natural Playscape

Author: KNIA/KRLS News – Justin Webster

Last week, representatives from Central College, 3M, Lake Red Rock Association, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, were on site at a new natural playscape being built near Lake Red Rock’s North Overlook for a check presentation. Ranger Junifer Kruse says some of the areas features include a playscape pod with a balancing course, eagles nest, sand pit, amphitheater, and living willow tunnel.  The check donated by 3M was for $30,000 and will be used to complete phase I of the project, and leftover funds will help to begin additional phases.

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North Overlook Playscape Event a Great Success!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Saturday, November 2, 2013, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hosted a natural
playscape construction day with Vermeer Corporation at Lake Red Rock.  Vermeer
Corporation provided the labor to construct the project as part of their desire
to give back to the community for their 65th Anniversary celebration.
Approximately 80 volunteers made up of Vermeer employees and their families
participated in the event.  A variety of playscape components were constructed
on Saturday:  the framework for a willow tunnel and nearly life size eagle nest
made from willow whips; an amphitheater; balance course; nature trail; sundial;
and play archaeological dig.  The efforts by the Vermeer volunteers were

Central College students, led by environmental studies
professor Anya Butt, developed the concept ideas for the playscape on paper and
assisted with implementation of the playscape elements during the

A natural playscape is a type of play area that uses natural
elements like boulders and logs to create places for children to explore
nature.  The playscape, located along the Volksweg Trail near North Overlook
Campground, is the first of its
kind at Lake Red Rock with only a few other
examples in the State of Iowa.

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The Lake Association Needs YOU!

board members neededTo all active members of the Red Rock Lake Association: there are two board seats open.  If you have a love of the lake and would like to get involved, please let us know of your intention to run for the board. Prospective board members should  submit a short biography via email at mdkiss65@hotmail.com and what you would like to accomplish on the board.


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MRES Awards Contract for Bike Trail Extension

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – In conjunction with its plans to build a hydroelectric facility at the Red Rock Dam in Marion County, Iowa, the Missouri River Energy Services (MRES) Board of Directors approved a contract for construction of a 7,000-foot extension of the Volksweg Bike Trail near the dam.


Norris Asphalt Paving Co., of Ottumwa, Iowa, was the successful bidder for the bike trail project, which will extend from the Fifield Recreation Area to the Robert’s Creek Trailhead. Construction of the trail extension will begin soon and is projected to be completed in November.


Other features also are planned for the area, including picnic shelters, a playground, a fish-cleaning station, restroom, parking facilities, and water fountains. MRES is still developing a plan for completing those features.

MRES, an organization of 61 municipalities that own and operate electric distribution utilities, plans to begin construction of the hydroelectric power plant in early 2014. The project is slated for completion in late 2016. During construction, the project will provide 400-700 jobs and nearly $250 million of economic benefits to the four-county region.


The Red Rock Hydroelectric Project will be the second largest hydroelectric plant in Iowa and will provide enough electricity for about 18,000 homes.

(This information was provided from Missouri River Energy Services in a
recent press release.)


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Year-Round Boating Courses…Online

powerboat007Are you a young person 12-17 years old needing boating course certification? Or,
are you an adult wanting to improve your boating knowledge? Boater education
courses are online year-round to help!  Check out the Iowa DNR’s website at www.iowadnr.gov and search under “Boater
Education” to learn about the courses available for little or no charge.  The
courses offered satisfy the state’s boating course requirement for young boaters
who will operate a motorboat over ten horsepower or personal watercraft (PWC).

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Reminder for Boaters to ‘Wear It!’

father-daughter2-printAs the weather starts to warm up, we’re all anxious to get outside and enjoy the
sunshine. Families and friends gather together to enjoy the outdoors, travel on
vacation and spend time on the water – boating, fishing, sailing, and more. It’s
important to remember the safety precautions to take during all of these
recreational water activities.

But, with approximately 500 people
drowning each year from recreational boating accidents, it is imperative to push
the message of “Wear It!”: wear your life jacket at all times while you are on
the water.
Throughout the boating season, the National Safe Boating Council is working with
their partner organizations to encourage safe and responsible boating, including
the practice of always wearing a life jacket, and being alert and aware while on
the water.

“Accidents on the water can happen much too fast to reach and
put on a stowed life jacket,” said Virgil Chambers, executive director of the
National Safe Boating Council. “It’s important that everyone wears a life jacket
while on the water. There’s no reason why you, your family and friends, can’t
have fun on the water while also choosing to always wear a life

Here are a few boating safety tips to keep in mind this boating

1. No matter what activity you have planned – boating, fishing
sailing, etc. – always remember to wear a life jacket every time you are on the

2. Make sure your life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard-approved and
properly fits. Double check that your life jacket is appropriate for your
favorite boating activities.

3. Life jackets meant for adults do not work
for children. If you are boating with children, make sure they are wearing
properly fitted, child-sized life jackets. Do not buy a life jacket for your
child to “grow into.”

U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that drowning was
the reported cause of death in three-fourths of recreational boating fatalities
in 2010, and that 88 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.
That’s why boating safety advocates continue to push for increased and
consistent life jacket wear on the water.

“A life jacket can’t save your
life unless you “Wear It!,” continued Chambers. “With today’s variety of
comfortable, stylish life jackets, there’s a life jacket for everyone – even our
four-legged friends! No matter the water activity or life jacket style chosen -
and always remember to ‘Wear It!’”

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The Army Corp of Engineers would like your input concerning ideas and future plans for the Red Rock Lake area. Please view the Focus Areas below and visit www.lakeredrock.org for more information and to send your input. Due to image sizes the pages may load slowly so please be patient.


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Focus area pages may load slowly – Arrow back to return

HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT                                                                                              Healthy Environment Overview                                                                                                    What is an ESA                                                                                                                                    MP ESA Red Rock 11×17 Map 1 of 2 11-2012
MP ESA Red Rock 11×17 Map 2 of 2 11-20-12
Healthy Environment Eliminate Invasive Species map
Healthy Environment Main Invaders
Healthy Environment Goal 4
Healthy Environment Public Hunting Acres
Healthy Environment Water Quality and Fisheries
A Natural Place to Play Overview
A Natural Place to Play Natural Feel
A Natural Place to Play Volksweg Trail
A Natural Place to Play Water Trail
A Natural Place to Play Marina
A Natural Place to Play Archery
A Natural Place to Play Horse Trails
A Natural Place to Play Soft Trails
A Natural Place to Play Cordova

 Connections Overview
Connections Habitat Fragmentation
Connections Trail Connections USACE
Connections Surrounding Communities trails
Connections Wayfinding Intersections
Connections Natural Playscapes
Connections Watchable Wildlife
Connections Access

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Be “in the know” on lake events
Improve Red Rock’s recreation
Promote Red Rock’s natural resources

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Weekends 9:30am to 6:00 pm





For more information, contact the Corps at (641) 828-7522 or (641) 628-8690.

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Lake Association Members: As a special perk of your support, we’re providing you this sneak peek at the next “Ask the Corps” article (to be published in the Pella Chronicle and Knoxville Journal-Express)


If you’ve surfed the web recently and visited Lake Red Rock’s webpage www.lakeredrock.org, you might have noticed our new appearance. The new look is part of the Corps of Engineers directive for all of its facilities to display a more uniform look. Coralville Lake, Saylorville Lake, and Corps areas on the upper Mississippi River all transitioned to the new web format in late October, and more Corps projects nationwide will gradually be converted over time. Continue reading

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Greetings! As a special perk of your support, we’re providing you this sneak peek at the next “Ask the Corps” article (to be published in the Pella Chronicle and Knoxville Journal-Express).
The Corps just received a new three dimensional model of the dam showing how it will look once the proposed hydropower plant is completed. Missouri River Energy Services (MRES), the company developing the facility, provided the model to help lake users visualize the project. It will also be used as a teaching aid for agency staff to explain the construction and operation of the new facility. Continue reading

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