Lending a helping hand - Volunteers aid in placing 5,000 plants

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Ashlyn Scherf, 10, daughter of Clayton County Conservation Board office manager Molly Scherf, waters sedges and other wetland species planted to stabilize the bank at Turkey River Park near Elkader.

Clayton County Conservation Board employees (from left) Kiley Johansen, Sam Hanson, and Abbey Harkrader plant sedges and other wet prairie species to stabilize the bank at Turkey River Park.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

What do you do when a truckload of plants arrives several weeks ahead of schedule and you don’t have enough hands to get them planted in a timely manner?

You throw a party, of course—a planting party.

That’s exactly what Clayton County Conservation Director Jenna Pollock did last week when 5,000 plant plugs for Turkey River Park were delivered ahead of schedule. Using social media and word of mouth, she called for volunteers to help get the work accomplished.

“Three weeks ago, erosion control matting arrived and the conservation staff placed the material within an afternoon,” Pollock said. “At that time, we were told our plant plugs would not arrive until late fall. DNR staff notified me last week that the plants were ready early but unfortunately due to budget cuts and a continuing hiring freeze, the DNR could not provide staffing to help plant the plugs.”

Though Pollock knew she could use some of her own staff, it wasn’t possible to pull everyone away from their day-to-day duties. So she decided to appeal to people who are interested in preserving county parkland. Her planting party drew several volunteers of all ages. Over a two-day period, 21 volunteers and 10 staff participated in the event. 

Turkey River Park, located in Elkader at the intersection of Highways 56 and 13, has been the site of considerable activity over recent months. A new, larger picnic shelter and concrete pad were installed in 2016. Also in 2016, following floods in August and September, a bank stabilization project was launched. The riverbank was restructured and a small rock and sand bar that had developed in the middle of the Turkey River was removed. 

“A bench was constructed as the riverbank was sloped back, to allow for natural sedimentation when the water rises in its banks above flood stage,” Pollock explained. “This will help redirect water flow (during flooding) from the riverbank and the park area to the center channel of the river.”

Pollock added that the park was chosen for improvements after it was identified as a “heavily visited area for fishing access, picnicking and as a travel rest stop.” The cost of the work is covered by a Water Access Improvement Grant from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources along with a $25,000 grant from the Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation and $1,000 from Clayton County Foundation for the Future. The final component of the renovation plan is installation of a concrete canoe access pad, tentatively scheduled for late fall.

The park is open to the public but Pollock asks visitors to be respectful of the new planting, which includes native forbs and sedges.

“We hope the plants will take root quickly,” Pollock said. “You may see us down there watering them on occasion to nurse them through the first few weeks. But native species should be quite resilient to that habitat and take off rather quickly.”

Last weekend’s hot weather was a concern for Pollock. She got some unexpected help with watering, however: Elkader Fire Chief Scott Marmann sent out the department’s pumper, which made quick work of watering the new plants.

“I just can’t thank everyone enough for helping with this project,” Pollock said. “We’ll be excited when it’s wrapped up with the installation of our new canoe ramp.”

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