Sweet Marsh: Public wetland complex is a refuge for wildlife and people – Cedar Valley Daily Times


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Rain this morning with thunderstorms by evening. High 47F. Winds N at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 100%..
Periods of rain. Low near 40F. Winds NNE at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall possibly over one inch.
Updated: November 4, 2022 @ 5:52 am
Blue-winged teals take flight from Sweet Marsh at sunrise. The marsh is an important resting spot for migratory birds.
Above: The 2,855-acre Sweet Marsh is popular with kayakers. Right: A kayaker at Sweet Marsh enjoys a field of American lotus in bloom.
American White pelicans gather at Sweet Marsh, northeast of Tripoli.
A kayaker at Sweet Marsh enjoys a field of American lotus in bloom.
A sandhill crane flies over Sweet Marsh. The Sweet Marsh Wildlife Area forms the core of the Wapsipinicon River Bird Conservation Area.
Kayak groups explore the wildlife at Sweet Marsh throughout the year.
A horned grebe floats on Sweet Marsh. The wetland complex was developed in a floodplain in the 1950s as a stopping point for migrating waterfowl.
Above left: Kayak groups explore the wildlife at Sweet Marsh throughout the year. Above right: Sweet Marsh Wildlife Management Area includes upland sections that provide habitat for animals such as this whitetail deer, turkey and pheasant. Left: American White pelicans gather at Sweet Marsh, northeast of Tripoli.

Blue-winged teals take flight from Sweet Marsh at sunrise. The marsh is an important resting spot for migratory birds.
Above: The 2,855-acre Sweet Marsh is popular with kayakers. Right: A kayaker at Sweet Marsh enjoys a field of American lotus in bloom.
American White pelicans gather at Sweet Marsh, northeast of Tripoli.
A kayaker at Sweet Marsh enjoys a field of American lotus in bloom.
A sandhill crane flies over Sweet Marsh. The Sweet Marsh Wildlife Area forms the core of the Wapsipinicon River Bird Conservation Area.
Kayak groups explore the wildlife at Sweet Marsh throughout the year.
A horned grebe floats on Sweet Marsh. The wetland complex was developed in a floodplain in the 1950s as a stopping point for migrating waterfowl.
Above left: Kayak groups explore the wildlife at Sweet Marsh throughout the year. Above right: Sweet Marsh Wildlife Management Area includes upland sections that provide habitat for animals such as this whitetail deer, turkey and pheasant. Left: American White pelicans gather at Sweet Marsh, northeast of Tripoli.
When pioneers settled Iowa back in the 1800s, it was full of wetlands. The 2,855-acre Sweet Marsh just northeast of Tripoli was not one of them.
Rather, the main body of the 3,200-acre Sweet Marsh Wildlife Management Area started as a flood plain, where Plum Creek joins the Wapsipinicon River.
It was too wet to farm consistently, so in the 1940s, the state designated it as a potential site to create a large wetland complex, according to Jason Auel, wildlife biologist for Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources, who has worked at Sweet Marsh for 12 years.
The state bought most of the property for today’s wetland complex in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, Auel said. “The biggest landowner to sell us the most property was Jim Sweet, and hence the name Sweet Marsh.”
After the land was acquired, the state built the complex in the 1950s. According to Auel, they constructed a large system of dikes or levees that created pools to attract migrating waterfowl in the fall and provide duck-hunting opportunities.
The wetland complex now comprises five pools connected through a series of canals and includes Martens Lake, according to the Iowa DNR website.
“In addition to the waterfowl area, we own some timber upland habitat for deer and turkey and pheasant and other stuff,” Auel said.
He added that trapping and fishing are also available in the area, and birdwatching is another popular activity.
“It’s also part of a bird conservation area,” he noted, “which is designated by the state as an important area for neo-tropical birds—migratory song birds and non-hunting-type birds.”
The Wapsipinicon River Bird Conservation Area stretches about 20 miles along the Wapsi River, from Black Hawk County in the south all the way to the north end of Sweet Marsh.
“During spring,” Auel said, “it’s not unusual to go out to Sweet Marsh and see 40-50 different species of your typical birds—warblers, finches, etc.”
Besides hunting and birdwatching, other popular forms of recreation in the wildlife area are kayaking or canoeing the waters and hiking on the 8 miles of levees.
“There are not designated trails,” Auel clarified, “but we have access trails for employees to use, in order to get our work done, and you can use those.”
The upland areas of the wildlife management area have mostly been restored to native grasses and flowers.
In addition, “we do have small remnant prairies on Sweet Marsh that are kind of unique,” Auel said, because “they’re wet meadow-type prairies, which there are not a lot of in Iowa anymore.”
The wildlife habitat appeals to a broad range of animals, including some rare ones.
“Historically, Sweet Marsh was home to the massasauga rattlesnake, which is now a federally threated snake species,” Auel said. “Unfortunately, the last known massasauga rattlesnake on Sweet Marsh was seen in 2012. That one was actually hit by a car.”
According to the Iowa DNR website, a black bear, a moose and a wolf have also been spotted at the marsh.
Auel reported that most of Sweet Marsh is open year round, 24 hours a day.
“This time of year, there is a refuge that people aren’t allowed to travel or walk in,” he explained. “That’s a place that we designate for ducks to go so they don’t get harassed. Those are all marked by yellow signs.”
During hunting season, visitors may want to wear an item of orange clothing as a precaution.
“The hunters would appreciate it, and it’d be a little safer,” Auel said. “But the hunters are fully aware that it’s a public area, so it’s not unusual for them to encounter people while they’re hunting.”
Hunting, he noted, is important to maintaining Sweet Marsh, because the complex’s expenses are funded through hunting and fishing license fees.
“We do not receive any general state tax funds to manage the property.”
He said that non-hunters can support the marsh by buying a habitat stamp for $15 wherever hunting licenses are sold.
Whatever their motivation, Auel encourages people to get out and experience the marsh.
“A lot of people know that it’s there but never come out to actually visit and appreciate all the wildlife they can see,” he said, as well as avail themselves of hiking, canoeing and kayaking opportunities.
“So I would encourage them to just come out and see what’s there,” he said. “When it comes to wildlife, especially this time of year, you could see something different every day.”
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Rain this morning with thunderstorms by evening. High 47F. Winds N at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 100%.
Periods of rain. Low near 40F. Winds NNE at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall possibly over one inch.
Windy. Periods of rain early. Then some breaks in the clouds in the afternoon. High 46F. Winds W at 20 to 30 mph. Chance of rain 90%. Rainfall near a quarter of an inch. Higher wind gusts possible.

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