Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt – My Big Backyard

Those of us born before the advent of video games (and hopefully some born after) may have fond memories of the neighbor with the big backyard where we and our friends would gather for games of “two hand touch” football, baseball, kickball, or just to hang out.  For me, this was a neighbor’s house in Ackley, Iowa. 

Today, many years later, these “big backyards” evoke wistful memories of childhood.  Modern subdivisions, with homes and yards laid out neatly and uniformly, often bordered by fences – fail to provide the “character” of the “big backyard” experience of years ago. Fortunately, I have found a way to recreate this “big backyard” experience in my life. 

My name is Doug Sheeley and I am a Natural Resources Supervisor for Polk County Conversation.  Most of my work responsibilities are located at Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt (or CBG, for short) - 7,300 acres of woodlands, wetlands and prairies to explore and discover.
Chichaqua Bottoms was created in the early 1960’s from the unfarmable remnants of the historical path of the Skunk River.  Channelization and levee construction shortly after the turn of the 19th century straightened the Skunk River’s course and reduced its seasonal flood potential, improving the ability to farm the bottomland.  The old meanders and oxbows that once contained the waters of the Skunk were reborn as Chichaqua Bottoms when Polk County purchased 600 acres of land in 1960.

Now, some 50+ years later it is my privilege to help lead the restoration and management of this unique wildlife area.  Numerous acquisitions have increased the size of CBG to its current 7,300 acres – a formidable-sized natural area by Iowa standards.  All these acres add to the value of the area, but also add challenges for management.
Prescribed fire is used to remove woody species and reinvigorate native species in our prairies and woodlands. Planning, preparing for and carrying out a prescribed burn requires a lot of hard work and patience. Fire is a very useful tool for the natural resource manager - and allows him or her to tap into their inner pyromaniac!

Nest structures for bluebirds, wood ducks, mallards, prothonotary warblers and American kestrels have been installed at CBG to enhance natural habitats.  These structures are monitored and maintained regularly to improve nesting success.  Banding wood ducks and American kestrels allows us to get “hands on” with wildlife.

Doug (left) and a volunteer banding kestrel chicks at CBG

Polk County sponsors several public events at CBG.  One that is especially enjoyable for me is the Mentored Waterfowl Hunt.  Youth, ages 12 to 15, have the opportunity to learn the finer points of waterfowl hunting from experienced hunters.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell who enjoys the experience more – the youth hunter or the mentor!

In this blog I have shared with you just a small sample of the opportunities waiting in my “big backyard” at Chichaqua Bottoms.  Stop by someday soon and play!


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