By John Butters. The JOURNAL
The renovation of Foster Woods, Washington County?s northern-most park, is nearly complete and will soon be ready to host picnics and family get-togethers.
?The new picnic shelter is in place, but we still need to install the railing and place some picnic tables at the site,? said Steve Anderson, executive director of the Washington County Conservation Board. ?Otherwise, most of the work is finished.
The new picnic shelter, one of several new amenities, was constructed on the pond?s edge to provide an overlook for park visitors.
The $70,000 makeover of the once-abandoned park has not only restored a natural resource for public use, but enhanced an educational benefit for local schools.
?Our naturalist, Pam Holz, uses the park for environmental education. The improvements will make it that much better,? Anderson said.
Predominantly an oak-hickory forest, the 10-acre watershed drains to the north and east, filling a 1-acre earthen dam pond. The spot has been a popular spot in north Washington County for families hosting a Sunday outing.
The park was almost abandoned in 2008 after severe fish kills permanently ended fishing there. Vandalism had also discouraged the board from investing additional funds in the park.
But after several community meetings in 2015, the board was encouraged by residents to undertake a renovation of the pond that would include creating a better fishing habitat and restore the park?s habitat.
The work began by cutting back the woods? understory and clearing the woods from the hillside surrounding the pond. The land was then seeded to create a prairie that would separate the pond from the wooded area.
To improve water quality for game fish, the pond was drained and deepened, and a larger culvert was installed in the dike to facilitate water movement. Concrete structures have been placed in the pond?s bed to provide fish with nesting and incubating sites.
Additionally, access to the pond has been improved. Previously, parking was available only at an entrance on the west side of the park, requiring a short hike to the pond. A driveway has been constructed that will bring patrons alongside the pond, making it easier for handicapped visitors to fish or picnic at the site. Anderson said the board plans to add to the current hiking trail.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has stocked the filling lake with fish fry, but it will be several years before the fish are large enough to attract anglers.
The pond is beginning to fill, but probably won?t top out for another year. It is refilling at a natural rate.
?When figuring the capacity of a pond, 3 acres at a depth of 1 foot will equal about 1 million gallons of water. The pond is approximately 1 acre and 12 foot deep, so it could take between 3-4 million gallons of water to fill it,? he said.
Anderson said the park?s location was one of several factors in the board?s decision to restore the park.
? It?s in a location that we need to serve residents in north county,? he said. ?Also, the park was given to us to maintain and we needed to honor the donor?s trust in us. It?s a good quality resource.?
Anderson said that as the Washington Conservation Board?s program has matured, it seeks less to add land to the public domain. It has instead become more focused on maintaining the parks that it already manages.
?When we are offered the opportunity to acquire property, we evaluate the cost of operation versus the use value to the public,? he said. ?If the board believes that public use will be limited on a parcel, then they are unlikely to take action on it.?
He said the board appears more focused on the enhancement and expansion of existing property, rather than the acquisition of more land.
?We want to maintain our properties at the highest standard. We have to consider our costs in preserving the property and how to operate efficiently,? he said.
Foster pond was constructed in 1966 as was a shelter house. Other additions included a pit vault latrine and limited hiking trails.
All areas excluding the extreme eastern corner of Foster Woods are covered with mature trees. The well-drained slopes and upland areas are perfectly adapted to white oak, red oak, and shagbark hickory stands which provide a nearly complete canopy.