Wednesday, May 27, 2015

What is a Watershed? Part II: Eco-Warriors in Action!

How we interact within our watershed affects all communities, both living and nonliving.
Last month we introduced you to watersheds. We learned what encompasses a watershed and the interconnected web each watershed weaves throughout the landscape - the most important takeaway from last month's message being that, "we all live in a watershed and are passively but intimately connected to one another because of we treat the land and the water that flows through it is vitally important for future generations of all communities including plants, animals and people". The Polk County Conservation Board recognizes these facts and laid out a 5-year Strategic Plan in 2014 with emphasis on water quality in four of the top ten priorities established.

So what are we doing here at Polk County Conservation to ensure that one of our most valuable resources is available for generations to come? 

Three major rivers flow through our county; the Raccoon, Des Moines and Skunk Rivers with numerous streams and tributaries flowing into these waterways. Urban and agriculture interests constitute the majority of usage within the watersheds of Iowa's most populous county. When the status of water quality took the spotlight as part of the Polk County Water and Land Legacy Bond Referendum passed in November of 2012, PCC contributed to small water quality projects here and there but is now in a position to address the larger issue at hand.

The Initial Holdup 

Polk County Conservation has been without baseline data to which we can compare our current state of water quality. In order to become a leader in managing for and advocating on behalf of improved water quality in the county and state, we must have baseline data to know where to begin and how to move forward. In essence, we don't know what needs to be fixed until we know what is wrong. And we have a lot of ground to cover - 38+ miles of stream bank and 710+ acres of lakes, ponds, marshes, and river access that we maintain. 

The Next Step 

Water monitoring coordinators, Heidi Anderson and Joe Boyles, testing water transparency and nitrate level at Paw Creek.

In an effort to determine the overall health of local watersheds and identify areas of concern, PCC staff will inventory and monitor approximately 40 locations around Polk County where water quality is not currently monitored. PCC will work collaboratively with several cities and watershed associations to prevent duplication of data, and also to share results as a means to form the best picture of what is occurring throughout our waterways.

Staff participating in this initiative are those who have completed IOWATER training. IOWATER is Iowa Department of Natural Resources' citizen volunteer water monitoring program. Twenty Conservation staff have been trained in conducting basic water chemical, physical and biological assessments as taught through this program. Records of water transparency, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, nitrates/nitrites, chloride and phosphates will be taken. The resulting data will drive where we go to next as an organization committed to healthy watersheds. If we find long term trends in specific bodies of water, that watershed (and the behaviors playing out within said watershed) will be studied more intensely. The areas we will be focusing on in 2015 include the following:
Beaver Creek
Walnut Creek
Fourmile Creek
Spring Creek
Mud Creek 
Camp Creek well as some standing bodies of water within our family of parks and wildlife areas.

We are committed to long term health and sustainability of our local watersheds as well as those downstream. Join in our efforts by doing your part in improving water quality as well - check out Polk County Soil and Water Conservation District's website to begin your water stewardship journey today! Interested in becoming a citizen volunteer water monitor? Click here for further information!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What is a Watershed?

Graphic courtesy of

Iowans have probably heard this term thrown around in conversation lately as the issue of water quality in Iowa has taken center stage in recent months. But what exactly is a watershed? Surely not a shed full of water! So what, as informed citizens of a state on the cusp of change, do we need to know about watersheds?

A watershed is all of the land that collects and drains the water within a specific area into the same location or body of water. The highest points surrounding a drainage basin define the boundaries between watersheds. Water flows from these high points down to a common low point within these  boundaries. Every drop that travels through the land is channeled into various bodies of water as it percolates down through the soil into groundwater as well as into creeks and streams. From there, this water makes its way into larger river systems and eventually into oceans.

But a watershed is more than just the rivers, lakes, and wetlands that make up the landscape. Everything that sits within a drainage basin is an important part of a watershed - from housing developments to farms, from woodlands to schools, roads and parking lots as well as the soils resting beneath. And it is also you! What you do and how you live within the landscape has far reaching effects. Holding water where it falls through selected vegetation, rain gardens and the impervious surfaces of your home and concrete drives all have an effect on others. Most important to remember, we all live in a watershed and are passively but intimately connected to one another because of it.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Wilson-Crumb
Activities within our watersheds directly affect not only the environment, our economy and society but also the health of every organism living in our own watersheds as well as those downstream.  As water traverses the land and into waterways, pollutants are picked up and carried downstream. Can you guess what is Iowa's #1 water pollutant? Volunteer a guess in the comments below - answer to be revealed in next month's blog! How we treat the land and the water that flows through it is vitally important for future generations of all communities including plants, animals and people.

A healthy watershed = a healthier world.

Here at Polk County Conservation, local watershed health has become a high priority. Management of drainage areas specifically at Easter Lake Park, Fort Des Moines Park, Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt and in the Fourmile Creek watershed is taking precedence. In an effort to improve upstream behaviors, consistent inventory and monitoring in areas of concern will be occurring within Polk County.

Stay tuned next month to see Polk County Conservation in action as we work diligently to protect one of our greatest natural resources!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Our Family of Trails

Spring is most definitely in the air! Time to pack up those snow boots and dust off the warm weather gear as the spring melt makes way for outdoor fun here in central Iowa. Here at Polk County Conservation, we got you covered!
Our family of parks covers over 14,000 acres across the county stretching from Granger down to Mitchellville. PCC has been devoted to conservation and protection of Polk County's natural heritage as well as providing quality outdoor recreation since 1956. Outdoor enthusiasts will find our trails useful for a variety of activities including hiking, cycling, birding, skating and cross-country skiing (dare we think back to the winter months).

Land acquisition for recreational trails and greenbelts has become a priority in Iowa's most populous county. The 110-mile Central Iowa Trail Loop is part of this priority. Meandering through towns along the way, this loop seeks to foster connections amongst communities along the trail as it connects existing parks, trails and businesses across five counties.

Our Family of Trails

 The High Trestle Trail extends over 25 miles from Ankeny to Woodward also connecting Sheldahl, Slater and Madrid along the way. This trail is a major link in the Central Iowa Trail Loop. A former railroad bridge that spans across the Des Moines River, located between Woodward and Madrid, is the focal point of the trail. This one half mile bridge rises 13 stories high with special lighting and six overlook spots where people can step aside and enjoy the views. This trail bridge is the fifth largest in the world!

The Chichaqua Valley Trail begins its scenic route just west of Mally's Park and extends 25 miles to Baxter. This former rail line was used by several railroad companies who left behind historic markers along the way indicating the distance to Kansas City. Keep a lookout for these throughout the trail!

The Gay Lea Wilson Trail makes up the lower portion of the Central Iowa Trail Loop. This 35 mile trail extends through eastern and northern parts of Polk County. Parking and access to this trail is available at Carney Marsh in Ankeny, Sargent Park in Des Moines and Copper Creek Plaza in Pleasant Hill.

The Great Western Trail stretches over 16.5 miles beginning near Water Works Park in Des Moines and ending in Warren county near Martensdale. The trailhead is located on Valley Drive/George Flagg Parkway near Park Avenue. This historic trail dates back to the late 1800's when the Chicago Great Western Company operated trains on this line. Be sure to keep an eye out for a trail marker indicating the site of a train wreck along Four Mile Creek. 

The Trestle to Trestle Trail is a 3.7 mile stretch that serves as a link between Des Moines and the northern suburbs. Trailheads are located at River Place off Euclid Avenue on the west side of the Des Moines River and on NW Lower Beaver Drive.

Trail maps are available on our website. Click here for further details. 

Come On Out and CELEBRATE!

The Grand Opening of the Chichaqua Valley Trail Connector between Mally's Park and Bondurant will be celebrated on Saturday, April 25th in the communities of Berwick, Bondurant, Mingo, Ira, and Baxter. Festivities begin at 7:00 a.m. in Berwick and continue throughout the day in all of the communities.

  • 7-10 a.m. - Kick-off Breakfast - Berwick Congregational Church
  • 8 and 9 a.m. - Yoga in the Park - Mally's Park
  • 8-10 a.m. - Bike helmet fittingg/Give-a-way - Mally's Park
  • 8-10 a.m. - Bike Tune-ups - Mally's Park
  • 10 a.m. - Ribbon Cutting - Mally's Park
  • Fire Truck on Display in Mally's Park.
Other activities will happen at the following locations:

  • Depot Trailhead - Bondurant
  • Founder's Irish Pub - Bondurant
  • Greencastle Tavern - Mingo
  • Community Center - Ira
  • Cadillac Jack's - Baxter
Grand Opening Trail Guides are available at: Berwick Post Office, Founder's Irish Pub, Baxter City Hall, Bondurant City Hall, Greencastle Tavern, Cadillac Jack's, Jack Bucklin Auto Parts.

Click here for detailed event information including sponsors, maps, and community attractions.