Otter Creek Lake restoration set to restart in November

Bruck hired as new Tama Co. Conservation Naturalist

Tama County Conservation’s most recent hire, Naturalist Emma Bruck, pictured on Wednesday, Sept. 21, at Otter Creek Lake and Park Nature Center. Bruck replaces Naturalist Brendan Kelly who resigned last July. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

It was a moment of long-awaited good news for members of the Tama Co. Board of Conservation this past Wednesday, Sept. 21 during the board’s regular meeting as director Stephen Mayne was at last able to put a date to the official restart of the 70-acre Otter Creek Lake Restoration project.

The restoration project – which was announced in the spring of 2021 – began in July of 2021 with the draining of the lake.

Otter Creek Lake and Park was then closed to the general public beginning on October 1, 2021, but reopened this past May in the wake of public outcry to the park being closed while no construction was taking place.

Construction was put on hold due to a cascade of factors beginning with a required archeological survey that was unable to be completed in a timely manner due to frozen ground.

During last Wednesday’s meeting, Mayne told the board as part of a recent wetland mitigation meeting with the Iowa DNR and Rachel Contracting, he asked for defined dates and times as to when project tasks would be completed including a restart date.

The pre-construction meeting is set to take place Nov. 1, according to a document titled ‘Otter Creek Lake Restoration Phase III’ that Mayne shared. Mayne said Rachel Contracting would be mobilizing in October with an official mobilization date of Wednesday, November 2.

In November, construction activities are to include installing temporary erosion control, clearing trees and brush, and preparing spoil pile areas.

The majority of the lake’s dredging will take place in early to mid-December, followed by shoreline restoration including jetties and fish habitat, and stream mitigation work.

The remainder of the work – site restoration, and parking lot, campground, and playground improvements – will take place in April or May of 2023 after the ground thaws.

” I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of false promises from them,” Mayne said. “But this is the best thing that I’ve gotten since we ran into that very first delay … This is the best that we can do right now and hope for.”

Mayne further shared that Rachel Contracting “could have backed out” due to the multiple delays that took place (permits, surveys) and “driven our costs up dramatically but they still held on and wanted to see this project through so that [Tama County’s] cost-share doesn’t change.”

“From a contractor’s point of view, it’s a slippery slope,” board member Brian Wacha replied before later adding – “Once [Rachel Contracting] delivered equipment and they couldn’t start working, technically they could have charged us for every piece of iron that sat here for every day it was here.”

“Everything’s done. The paperwork’s done. The permits have been submitted, finalized, paid for,” Mayne said. “It’s now just waiting for [Rachel Contracting] to show up now.”

New naturalist

As part of the Environmental Education Report, Mayne introduced the county’s new Naturalist, Emma Bruck, to the board. Bruck was hired in August to replace former naturalist Brendan Kelly who resigned in July to take a job closer to his home in Ankeny.

Bruck, a Johnston native who graduated last May from Iowa State University with a B.S. in both global resource systems and environmental studies/sustainability, spent this past summer working in Dallas and Polk counties as an AmeriCorps naturalist.

Bruck, who now lives in Toledo, has begun scheduling winter programming at area libraries, preschools, public schools, and Sunrise Hill Care Center.

Campground closed for winter

As part of the Maintenance Report, Conservation Technician Dustin Horne shared that the Otter Creek Campground was now closed for the winter. The showerhouse is currently being power washed and painted ahead of winterization.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Horne reported there were 15 campers and many guests with 50-75 people total enjoying the park during the holiday weekend. T.F. Clark Park near Buckingham had three campers over the holiday weekend.

Park Ranger Riley Conrad shared an anecdote regarding an incident that took place at Otter Creek campgrounds that same weekend, telling the board both he and Mayne had to help rescue a “live cat” from a car’s engine.

The car – and the cat in question – belonged to a group of young people visiting from Toledo. Conrad initially thought their vehicle had broken down and stopped to help but it turned out they needed help of a different kind. Eventually, Mayne pulled the cat out – saving the critter – putting a happy ending to what Conrad called “the most exciting thing that happened [recently]” at Otter Creek Lake and Park.

October meeting

The next meeting of the Tama County Board of Conservation will take place on Wednesday, October 12, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at Otter Creek Lake and Park Nature Center.