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Iowa Outdoors (#204)


This episode examines an invasive species that could have a serious impact on Iowa's waterways, shares a view of the state's landscape as seen by photographer and author Larry Stone and tours Wildcat Den State Park where volunteers have worked for over 15 years to preserve and 1850s mill. We'll find out about an Outdoor Journey just for girls where everything from baiting a hook to firing a shotgun is learned.


Hi, I'm Scott Siepker.

And I'm Kelly Kramer.  Welcome to eastern Iowa --

 -- and this summertime edition of Iowa Outdoors.

Coming up on this edition of Iowa Outdoors, we investigate the presence and future of invasive fish.  We explore the rich history and beauty of eastern Iowa's Wildcat Den State Park.  We discover nature's wonders with some of Iowa's youngest outdoors women.  And we'll take a look back at the historic photography career of Larry Stone.

We'll have all that and more.

So sit tight, Iowa Outdoors is about to begin.

Funding for Iowa Outdoors was provided through a REAP conservation education program grant.  Up to $350,000 are available annually to support educational projects about Iowa's natural resources.  Information is available at www.iowadnr.gov.  The Gilchrist Foundation -- founded by Jocelyn Gilchrist -- furthering the philanthropic interest of the Gilchrist family in wildlife and conservation, medical care and social services, the arts and public broadcasting and disaster relief.  

Many of Iowa's natural wonders you'll find on IPTV can be found in Iowa Outdoors magazine, the Iowa DNR's premier resource for conservation, education and recreation activities.  Subscription information can be found online at iowadnr.gov.

Welcome to Wildcat Den State Park, an eastern Iowa gateway to winding trails, rock formations and a pair of historic structures.

The Pine Creek Grist Mill and the Pine Mill Bridge are both on the national registry of historic places and paint the signature image of this state park.

In a few minutes we'll show you how a common bridge and mill have become the only relics of their kind in the entire state.

But first, we'll explore the threat of an invasive species, an unwanted fish that has garnered concern from Iowans near our state's many lakes and streams.

They are known as Asian carp and while this particular fish may sound exotic, their potential impact on our ecosystem is serious business.

Mike Hawkins: The silver carp are known for their ability to jump out of the water when they are spooked.  Prop noise from a boat or even the hull noise of the boat splashing in the water can cause these fish to jump out of the water.  It's a defense mechanism that the fish have to get away from danger.

These aquatic aerialists are one of four assortments of Asian carp -- grass, black, bighead and the notorious leaping silver carp.  The latter two have proliferated into a hoard capable of decimating native fish populations.  Chinese in origin, the Yangtze River natives were originally imported to the ponds of Arkansas catfish farms in the 1970s to clobber overgrown algae.  Flooding allowed them to escape to confinements and to nearby waterways.  Since then, the invasive species have been able to use the Mississippi River as a super highway, infesting several of her tributaries, including a handful in Iowa.  

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has been vigilant in tracking the mob's migration up our rivers. Mark Flammang and Joe Larscheid are two biologists in the field using technology to collect data.

Mark Flammang: This is an electric fishing boat.  We use these to evaluate a lot of different fish species.  They put about 500 volts in the water.

These are actually the electrodes.

Flammang: This would be the positive side of the current, the boat is the negative side of the current so anywhere in between here is where the power is at.

We're starting to see some fish.

Flammang: What it does is it essentially just shocks the fish, it stuns them but it doesn't actually kill them, hurt them or anything.  And then from there we can put them in a tank, measure them and weigh them and get all the data that we need to.

Bighead and silver carp advancements have been kept in check by several dams throughout the state.  These concrete monoliths are generally a dead end to the scaly assailants.

Joe Larscheid: They try to go upstream as far as they can and these flood control reservoirs are a stop cap so they're not getting above those systems.  They are an opportunity to see how many fish are in the system because then they stockpile and they're easy to sample.

Flammang: They're just a funny looking fish. The eye is very low on the head.

But a river without overhead dams is still in danger. This dam at Linn Grove on the Little Sioux River provided a weak spot that the fish were able to exploit during the floods of 2011.  The Missouri River tributary extends into northwest Iowa and connects via Mill Creek to the Lower Garst Spillway.  This gateway to the Iowa great lakes is the lowermost of six glacial lakes that are the backbone of our recreational commerce.  The rallying cry against the expected barrage is one that resonates within the rotunda of Iowa's state capitol.

Senator David Johnson: It would be devastating to the economy -- I think it's urgent that we come up with some way to keep these fish out.

A blue water or spring fed lake is a rare phenomenon.  Only three exist in the world, one of which is West Okoboji Lake in Dickinson County, Iowa.  The notion of Asian carp sneaking into one of Iowa's premier vacation destinations and besieging the natural wonder has the community on edge.

Kim Bogenschutz: It was a surprise to see them there.  I think for the locals it was very much a surprise. For those of us who work with invasive species we knew it was possible.

Kim Bogenschutz, an invasive species expert with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, has been studying Asian carp in coordination with other states and federal agencies.  Their elusive goal is to control the number of these fish in our connected waterways.

Bogenschutz: Because they are filter feeders they don't bite on bait and they are very difficult to catch. They are net shy.  They jump over nets.  They go through nets.

According to biologists, silver carp only jump during their juvenile stage.  No leaping incidents have been reported in the Iowa great lakes, but none are expected.  Shallow rivers are more apt to promote this behavior.  It is theorized that startled fish simply dive deeper when the space is available.  The behavior tends to cease all together once a silver carp weighs over ten pounds.  

Due to their ravenous appetites, they grow quickly.  But what silver and bighead carp eat is encroaching on Iowa's native game fish.

Bogenschutz: All of our small fish species filter the same plankton out of the water while they are growing.  A lot of them then become fish eaters.  But we have native species, small mouth buffalo, for example, that eat plankton for their entire lives as well so they are in direct competition with the Asian carp.

To top it off, carp are prolific breeders.  It would seem the classic one-two punch is in store for any lake unfortunate enough to be overrun by this nuisance.  Graciously, Mother Nature appears to have granted a reprieve to large bodies of water.

Bogenschutz: Their eggs are, they are buoyant, they float and so they have to remain suspended for a period of time in order for the larval fish to develop.  If they become buried in the sediment they suffocate and die.  And so the large, the long stretches of river is a requirement to keep the eggs floating and viable.

Though it is highly unlikely that Asian carp are capable of breeding in lakes, this doesn't mean populations can't grow to be a problem.  Solutions are being implemented that would keep the fish from expanding their territory.  Mike Hawkins, fisheries management biologist at the Spirit Lake Hatchery, is working on a permanent solution.

Mike Hawkins: What we've proposed is designing and engineering an electric fish barrier at the outlet of the Iowa great lakes that would prevent them from moving upstream.  Water can pass over this type of a barrier and the flows aren't affected.  An electric fish barrier works by sending low voltage electricity into the water.  Fish experience that electrical field, it causes them to turn around and move back downstream.

With a price tag around $700,000 state funds for the barrier fell victim to legislative gridlock.  But a donation by the DNR and local grassroots efforts to raise money for the blockade put a solution within reach.

Bogenschutz: It's not something you just want to put in and hope.  It's got to be done right and we're following the steps as a state to make sure that that happens.  We can control them, we can stop them.  Will we ever get rid of them completely? Probably not but if we keep diligently working, slowing their spread so that there's less of them to get rid of once we do have some better control options -- I think there's hope for the future.

In 1848, Muscatine County's first European-American permanent settler, Benjamin Nye, built this structure -- the Pine Creek Grist Mill.  It stands today as one of the most pristine examples of 19th century mills in the entire country.

Well, that's what makes this mill unique is of those 500 grist mills that existed in the 1870s, this is one of the lone survivors.  There's only like ten or fifteen mill buildings still standing in Iowa.  This is the only one that has all of its machinery in tact and actually functions.

Unfortunately, Benjamin Nye didn't enjoy his success for very long.  He was killed in a confrontation with his son-in-law who years earlier had eloped with his fifteen year old daughter.  After Nye's death, the mill passed through many hands and challenges.  

It remains the centerpiece of Wildcat Den State Park nestled along the Mississippi River north of Muscatine.  Park relic, part museum, the grist mill is a living, breathing, chugging trip back in time.  

When Benjamin Nye first built this mill 150 years ago, Iowa was a fledgling state. The structure has weathered historic flooding, the endless encroachment of a natural environment and the threat of fire, which has doomed thousands of similar structures over the past century.  In 1883, floodwaters nearly doomed the mill, blasting away a side wall and scattering bags of flour all the way to the Mississippi River.  110 years later, Iowa's historic floods of 1993 nearly toppled the grist mill again.  But it still stands.  How has this structure survived?  A little luck and tremendous effort from the volunteer army, the Friends of the Pine Creek Grist Mill.

Somewhat over 50,000 hours of volunteer help went into this project.  It could be people working in restoration.  It could be people like our treasurer, our secretary, interpretive people.

We had been told by the experts that the mill was beyond restoration, that it could not -- the machinery could not be made to run and it was impossible. And not being experts or knowing how to do this, we went ahead and did it anyway.

Preservation is one task.  Renovating an 150 year old mill into pristine working order is an entirely different task.  Volunteers have tediously repaired belts, shafts and anything else requiring a tune up after a century and a half of corn meal and elbow grease.  

That's the flour from the millstones.  It's not quite whole wheat, not quite pure white.

A lot of the technology has been lost so what we've had to do is recreate it.  One of our biggest issues is power transmission, you know, because this place is powered by flat belts and wooden pulleys and steel line shafts and that is a technology which disappeared over a century ago in America.  So you have to rediscover all the little subtle tricks that are involved in it and you have to rediscover how people adjusted these machines and how they spliced belts and you have to document it all so that once you gain that knowledge it's not lost.

This is the corn grinding part of the mill. The millers take the corn, throw it into a hole which sends the corn downstairs into the sheller. Once the corn is shelled, the kernels come here to the roller mill where it gets ground up and gets sent upstairs for the next part of the journey.

Upstairs the ground corn is run through a bolter which sifts it and then sends it back down here where it comes out as corn meal.  

You get together and you decide which is the best way.  You try it.  If it doesn't work you go to plan B and maybe plan C.  But we usually end up making them work.  And it's really kind of neat to see the end result when you can see something working that hasn't worked for many, many years.

In the late 1800s the Rod Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio was well known for a design known as the pin connected Pratt through truss.  And while that structure type was once common in Iowa, this Pine Mill Bridge is the only remaining site in our state where the relationship of original mill and bridge is preserved.

Wildcat Den State Park is a lot more than historic structures.  Trails encompass a wide swath of the park.

Hikers can experience spectacular views and a variety of terrains on trails such as Steamboat Rock and Fat Man’s Squeeze.

From a leisurely stroll through the valleys of Wildcat Den, to the hillsides above, this eastern Iowa gem may be off the beaten path but it's a journey worth taking on the trails or back in time.

Definitely we all feel pride in the fact that we have this thing back and working again.  I was just thinking of what my wife said one time for Heritage Day and all the windows and the doors were open and she looked up at that and said, the mill is smiling again.  So that's kind of neat.

Beside the mill at Wildcat Den State Park, you'll also find the Mill Pine Schoolhouse, built in 1877.  Education has always been important to Iowans.  And if you look on the back of an Iowa quarter, you'll find a one-room schoolhouse, much like this one.  On the quarter is the slogan, foundation in education.  If you look closer, you'll see the school teacher is planting a tree with her students, a nod to the need to educate young people on the importance of nurturing the state's natural resources.

Where is a girl to go if she doesn't know how to filet a fish, doesn't know the first thing about shooting a shotgun or doesn't know anything about animals such as snakes?  Where is a girl to go if she wants to have fun while learning more about the natural world?  Well, she could sign up for Outdoor Journey, a three-day, two-night workshop aimed at teaching outdoors skills to girls twelve to fifteen years old.

Donise Grygiercyzk: Some of the girls came and they're like, Donise, I don't want to be here.  And I'm like, you're going to love it.  But I've never touched a firearm before.  I'm like, you're going to love that experience, you need to learn it.  So it's interesting the perspective on some of those girls who are farm girls and have lived out in the country their whole entire life and there's other ones who are city girls who don't get to see the stars at night.  So when they come out here too and they see stars and they're super bright and there's so many of them they're like, I can't believe it.  It's a whole different atmosphere when they come out here.

Over 2,000 girls have participated in Outdoor Journey since it began in 1992.  There is a $100 registration fee but most of the girls are sponsored by Pheasants Forever or the Department of Natural Resources and receive financial assistance through a scholarship.

Jared Wiklund: I think the main thing for Pheasants Forever is getting kids involved in conservation. We've seen kind of a generational gap, especially in the last few years, of kids getting outside.  With video games and new technology we just don't get as many kids outside anymore.  So it is important for Pheasants Forever and I think it is important for the outdoor community as a whole that we sponsor some of these young women to go to camp, learn about conservation, learn about the world that surrounds them and that way they can get involved at a later stage in life with the outdoor lifestyle.

The goal of the camp isn't to turn young women into deadeye shots or anglers capable of reeling in trophy lunkers.  While that may eventually happen, for now the idea is to simply introduce the girls to a variety of outdoor activities in an environment that puts an emphasis on fun.

Grygiercyzk: Video games nowadays have taken over everything, not just video games but all technologies.  So these girls that are coming here, they don't get to have their cell phones with them except for at night to call their parents.  They get to learn about the outdoors.  They see the trees, they see the nature.  I think that is very rewarding for them.

One downside to the camp is that you can only attend the camp once and it is only for girls twelve to fifteen years old. That was a real problem for Lydia Richter who attended camp at age twelve with her mother who came along as a chaperone.  Even though Lydia couldn't come back, her mom had such a good time she continued to chaperone at the camp year after year after year.  Finally, when Lydia turned eighteen she was able to return to Outdoor Journey and take part in the fun again as a chaperone and for four years now, along with her mother, she has been doing just that.

Lydia Richter: I was a little jealous, yeah, but now we come together and it's a blast.  I would cry if I missed this every summer.

The camp is divided into three groups with each group rotating through every activity.  There is such a variety of things to do that it would be safe to say there's something for everyone.  But that doesn't seem to be an issue, as it would appear that every girl enjoys every activity.

Kelsey: Well, I have gone canoeing, we learned about camping, safety and a lot about guns and archery and we had to take a little test but it was really easy and it was fun.

Eva: It was fun but like when you shot it would kind of like push your shoulder back.  But it wasn't that bad so I liked it.

Gracie: It's really easier for me to learn when we're doing like hands on activities.  So that is a better way for like me to learn instead of reading like out of a book.

Cassie: Well, I waited for it to go the highest it could and then drop just a little bit so it hit right when it hit like that.  Then it just went boom. Yeah, it was pretty exciting.  I was the only one that got it until like a few minutes ago.

Besides being able to try their hand at a number of outdoor activities, the girls can earn their Iowa hunter education certification, which is mandatory for any hunter born after January 1972.  The girls learn how to load and fire a rifle and shotgun, the importance of asking permission from a landowner to hunt an area, and to have to take a written exam where they have to answer such questions as what type of arrowhead do you use for big game? And what are the funds of the Pittman Robertson Act used for?

Marlowe Wilson: We're giving them the basics in hunter education. It's not going to make them proficient at all of it.  They still need to be mentored, so to speak, with an adult of some sort that has got experience.  And today's day and age everyone is getting opportunities for all different things.  It isn't the traditional where the boys went out hunting with dad.  Now the whole family is going and that's a good thing.

Outdoor Journey is just that, a trip down a path that will lead young women to a better appreciation of the natural resources found in Iowa, resources they will be more likely to enjoy and protect.

While the grist mill at Wildcat Den State Park is over 150 years old, there are other features like these sandstone cliffs, that are over 300 million years old.  

Through is photography and writing, Larry Stone has made a career out of sharing the features he has found in places like Wildcat Den State Park.

Thanks to his works, more people have a better understanding of the land between the Mississippi and the Missouri.

Larry Stone says he's been taking pictures for over 50 years.  If his name sounds familiar it's probably because for half of those years he was shooting photographs and writing articles for the Des Moines Register about the wonders and issues facing Iowa's outdoor environment.  

Larry Stone: Which was the best job in the world.  I really enjoyed that.  Got to see a lot of the state of Iowa and meeting a lot of people in natural areas.  I didn't pretend to be the expert.  I was getting other people to tell me the stories of Iowa and conservation and nature.

Larry believes he wrote over 3,000 articles during his 25 years with the Des Moines Register.  Since he retired from the paper in 1997 he has written five books. The first book he wrote, Listen to the Land, is a collection of stories he wrote for the paper that were personal reflections of the beauty he has found throughout the Iowa landscape.

Stone: I chose that title -- listen doesn't have to be just with your ears, I guess, you can taste, hear, see, smell, experience the land and you can call that listening, I guess.  That was kind of the idea behind that title.

Two of the books Larry has written were co-authored with ornithologist and long-time friend, Jon Stravers.  They are tributes to two of the state's most recognized and respected naturalists, Sylvan Runkel and Gladys Black.  

Stone: Sylvan and Gladys were both kind of characters.  Gladys was a character in her own right.  She started educating people and education was her big thing, teaching people about birds.

Gladys Black: In the little abdomen you can see the little, the intestines and everything.

Stone: And I think she probably did more to get more Iowa people interested in birds than any other one person ever could have.

Sylvan Runkel: This is, some people call it niche weed, some people call it a nettle.

Stone: Sylvan was a little bit more laid back or subtle in his mission.  He was always happy to go give a talk to anybody who was willing to have him.  He delighted in talking about -- especially about wildflowers.  That was kind of his field of expertise.  So he was kind of Iowa's premier naturalist.

Larry grew up on a farm in Warren County.  Even while doing chores he says there were constant opportunities to observe and appreciate nature's wonders.

Stone: Whether feeding the cattle or something as unglamorous as hauling manure out to the field, you know, there would be birds to see or sometimes wildlife around.  So a lot of things to do on the farm, you know, pick wild plums, pick wild grapes and pick wild strawberries and just the opportunities that I had, not enough kids have an opportunity to do now.

Larry has spent his life planting seeds he hoped would grow into an appreciation of the state's prairies, woodlands and waterways.  Nowadays, as a member of the Clayton County Conservation Board, he works to protect those resources.

Stone: Our board, one of our primary focuses and missions is the conservation education and awareness, make people appreciate and protect what we do have.  That is our future when you get right down to it.  If the kids of the future are going to have any place to enjoy or to fish or to swim or canoe we've got to take care of what we've got now because we seem to keep losing it.

And as papa Larry, he spends a lot of time nurturing a respect for Iowa's natural environment in his grandchildren.  He does it in part by sharing with them what he knows about photography.  But the camera is just one of the many tools he uses to expose them to the wonders of nature.

Stone: You know, it's a cliché but kids don't play in the dirt enough any more and if you're going to take care of the planet you've got to have an appreciation for it and get your fingers dirty.  I hope -- are we accomplishing getting your fingers dirty?  I hope so.

I think so.

Stone: I hope so.  I hope so.

Stone: We've got to climb trees, we've got to pick up acorns, we've got to look for snails and watching birds and a lot of things to do besides take pictures.  It's good for me because I sometimes get too focused on only this flower or this image and I forget about the things around me.  So when I have the grandkids along that helps me appreciate the other things too.

Stone: I'll tell you what, I had the best job in the world for 25 years at the Des Moines Register.  And I still have got the best job in the world.  You know, when you can go out any time you want to and photograph outdoors with the kids that's hard to beat.

That wraps up this edition of Iowa Outdoors.  We hope we've given you some ideas of places to explore with our family this summer.

For a complete list of all the state parks in Iowa go to iowadnr.gov or check out any of our past episodes at iptv.org/iowaoutdoors.  

We'll leave you with some images of summer in Iowa.

Funding for Iowa Outdoors was provided through a REAP conservation education program grant.  Up to $350,000 are available annually to support educational projects about Iowa's natural resources.  Information is available at www.iowadnr.gov.  The Gilchrist Foundation -- founded by Jocelyn Gilchrist -- furthering the philanthropic interest of the Gilchrist family in wildlife and conservation, medical care and social services, the arts and public broadcasting and disaster relief.  

Many of Iowa's natural wonders you'll find on IPTV can be found in Iowa Outdoors magazine, the Iowa DNR's premiere resource for conservation, education and recreation activities.  Subscription information can be found online at iowadnr.gov.


Tags: fish Iowa Larry Stone outdoor education Outdoor Journey photographers rivers tourism travel Wildcat Den State Park