LONE TREE — Set out to explore Pechman Creek Delta in southern Johnson County, and you might come across a rare great blue heron rookery, woodpeckers, 28 species of fish, turtles and other wonders of nature.
The Johnson County Conservation Board recently acquired the land, 380 acres off Sand Road in Lone Tree, and is encouraging people to enjoy an area rich in wildlife and biodiversity.
“People that hunt and fish and really appreciate nature have long recognized this area as one of the most productive areas for wildlife in the county,” Johnson Conservation Board Executive Director Larry Gullet said.
Until recently the land was privately owned. After dealing with years of flooding, the landowners had asked the county Board of Supervisors for a buyout. None were available for rural agricultural land, but the timing was right to peek the Conservation Board’s interest because the board was looking to protect greenbelt land along waterways.
The Pechman Creek Delta was an ideal candidate, said Gullett.
“From a water quality perspective and an ecological perspective and from an educational perspective, it’s just perfect,” he said.
With 2.5 miles of land fronting the Iowa River and another 1.7 miles of streams that run into the river, along with multiple wetlands, the land is an important estuary for fish and other wildlife.
A variety of oak tree species also grow there, which Gullet said is important because oaks are declining across Iowa due to the spread of invasive species like silver maple and white mulberry.
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Landowners Chris and Colleen Westfall and Terry and Lela Kruse worked with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation to manage and protect the land until the Conservation Board could raise the needed funds last year.
The purchase was funded with a $673,297 Resource Enhancement and Protection — or REAP — grant from the Natural Resource Commission of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources combined with a donation from Whitetails Unlimited and Conservation Bond funding.
This year, the Conservation Board plans to begin developing a landscape restoration plan, which is expected to take one to two years as members study the land and wildlife and how the water flows at different times of the year. They hope to begin implementing the plan in 2018 or 2019, Gullet said.
In the meantime, the space is open to the public, and conservation program manager
Brad Freidhof encourages people to visit for a hike. Parking is available behind the buildings at 5875 Sand Road SE in Lone Tree, and in the spring he recommends kayakers stop at the delta on a trip down the river from Hills.
“People are down there hunting, fishing, bird watching, just going out to enjoy nature,” he said. “We just want to give people that green space. It’s so important to preserve that green space, especially in rapidly developing Johnson County.”
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