Changes upstream for the Maquoketa River

Dam to be removed, water trail status conferred

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Major improvements are in store for one of Eastern Iowa’s finest rivers — the Maquoketa.

In the year ahead, the obsolete Quaker Mill dam north of Manchester will be removed, and the state will confer water trail status on a 23-mile stretch of the river in Delaware County.

“The two projects dovetail with each other and with the white-water park drawing thousands of visitors each year to the river in Manchester,” said Doug Hawker, a leader in the effort to improve the Maquoketa’s environmental health and its appeal to recreationists.

Hawker, a recently retired Department of Natural Resources environmental specialist, long has advocated improvements to the Quaker Mill dam that, along with surrounding property, is owned by his family.

Garlyn Glanz, director of the Delaware County Conservation Board, the lead partner in the water trail project, said the Maquoketa’s natural beauty and long-standing appeal to anglers and paddlers ideally suit it for the water trails program.

Glanz said he soon will submit applications for grants to help pay for improvements to accesses on public property along the river.

Delaware County Engineer Anthony Blodgett said he is expecting bids later this month on the first phase of the Quaker Mill project — removing the dam and excavating the channel back to the mill pond. Phase 2, reconstructing a failed dike that allowed the river to change course, will begin next winter, he said.

The pond disappeared in 2008 when a flood breached a levee above the dam and forged a new channel that joined Honey Creek to the east. The county repaired the levee, briefly returning the river to its original course — but the levee again failed in the same 2010 flood that took out the Lake Delhi dam.

Blodgett said the dam will be replaced with a rock arch rapids that will permit navigation by paddlers except in periods of low flow.

The county will pay about two-thirds of the estimated $750,000 cost of the Quaker Mill project, with a third provided by a DNR grant, he said.

The project will return the wandering river to its original bed and allow it to flow freely, benefiting the environment, recreationists, the county, the city of Manchester and the owners of the dam itself.

“That river has been special since the last glaciers receded, and it has always drawn people to it,” said Iowa State University landscape architect Mimi Wagner, the principal author of the 200-page water trail development plan.

With only one percent of its bed bordered by cultivated crops, it has one of the most intact riparian buffers — the banks — in the state water trail system, she said.

Along with affording scenic views and frequent wildlife sightings, its forested banks are part of the breeding range of 23 species of birds listed among the state’s species of greatest concern.

The Maquoketa, with its white-water course and the upcoming Quaker Mill project, “is a perfect example of how we can modify dams to yield benefits for people and for fish and other aquatic life,” Wagner said.

The Delaware County trail “ranks up there toward the top” of the 33 projects undertaken as part of the state’s water trails program, said John Wenck, the DNR’s water trails coordinator.

Since the program’s inception, Wenck said about 1,500 river miles have received the state designation, making them eligible for grants and other assistance in improving access and developing signs and brochures. Another 400 miles are included in projects that have yet to receive official designation, he said.

Wenck said the Maquoketa and a stretch of the South Skunk River in Story County will be designated as water trails this year, with a September date likely.

Notwithstanding the Maquoketa’s scenic charm, the state lists almost all the 23 miles included in the trail as impaired by high levels of indicator bacteria and factors such as siltation and low dissolved oxygen that can limit the types and numbers of aquatic plants and animals.

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