A $16 million restoration project at Lake Darling State Park in southeast Iowa is nearly complete. Chad Dolan, a fisheries biologist in the Iowa Department of Natural Resources who manages the property, says the gate for the lake’s dam was set in mid-February.
“The lake should fill fairly quickly. Our best projections are once the spring thaw hits, it’s going to take about a month,” Dolan says. “In reality, it could happen a little bit quicker than that, so we might be being a little conservative, but the point is it’s not going to take very long.”
Lake Darling, located near Brighton, Iowa, was named for “Ding” Darling, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Des Moines Register cartoonist who founded the National Wildlife Federation. Darling himself set the gate for the lake’s original dam in 1950.
“Due to heavy sedimentation and nutrient input over 60 years time, it had been reduced to about 267 acres,” Dolan says. “And through this renovation and removing sediment and also building a new drain structure…and raising the lake elevation two feet, we’ll be back to 304 acres.”
The lake was drained in 2008. Dolan says workers removed 309,000 cubic yards of silt from the lake bed.
“That would fill an entire football field 144 feet deep,” Dolan says, “or in other words, to the height of a 12-story building.”
Officials say 80 percent of surrounding land owners have installed terraces, planted grasses and created retention ponds on their property to prevent soil and fertilizer from flowing into the lake once it refills. Other improvements have been made to the surrounding parklands, including a new road, a new campground and a new lodge. Dolan expects the park to reopen July 1.
Dolan made his comments during a recent appearance on Iowa Public Radio.