Hiawatha Wetland Restoration Project

Mowing the green space at Hiawatha was always a struggle because of the soggy, spongy ground. Even at the driest time of the summer the center of the park was wet making it difficult to access the community dock at the center of the Hiawatha shoreline. You can see the wet center areas in the photos below where it wasn't possible to mow.  At the MPLOA members annual meeting in 2017, the decision was made to research ways to make the park more usable for the community. 

Artist rendering of Hiawatha
Artist rendering of Hiawatha
2014
2014
2015
2015
2016
2016

Discussions were held with Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Wahpeton city officials and Beck Engineering. Beck was hired to conduct a survey of the property and develop a plan for us to fill the area.  Because of the proximity to the shoreline, DNR approval was needed.  Beck Engineering submitted the DNR application in the fall of 2017. The permit to fill and raise up the center area of the park was denied by DNR. The DNR has jurisdiction over any land below the ordinary highwater line (OHWL) and filling in the area would change the OHWL and restore the land to exclusive use by the MPLOA which is not permitted.

At the beginning of the 2018 summer, meetings were scheduled with officials from DNR, county conservation and city council to discuss options. From the point of water quality and accessibility to the docks, the plan was developed to stabilize the shoreline to prevent further erosion (and potentially losing more land to below the OHWL) and to restore the center area to wetland or wet meadow - depending on seasonal rainfall.  A walkway over the wet area would provide access to the association dock and a great view of the restored wetland habitat. By July 2018, it was evident that the abundance of rainfall in June was proving that the wetland was the correct decision. 

We applied for and received a Clean Water Grant from the Dickinson County Water Quality Commission. Clean Water grants provide funds to improve water quality in the Iowa Great Lakes area. The grant would not include the walkway.

Statistical modeling provided by John Wills at Dickinson County Conservation indicated a total of five acres of city streets and residential lots drain into this park area.  The amount of sediment carried into the lake from both Hiawatha and Papoose beaches at that time was enough to grow 13,000 pounds of toxic algae each year!

Our grant outlined a plan which removed the vegetation from the shoreline, added rocks to armor the shore where erosion was evident and added a six-foot native plant buffer to filter sediment and contaminants from entering West Lake Okoboji.  Native plants provided a buffer and improved the health of the soil, held the banks with impressive root systems and filtered sediment and nutrient run off from the streets and nearby lawns. The same work was planned on Papoose since the shoreline was showing severe erosion after the summer of high water.  It included the same buffer and the seed mix will match the plants used on the canal project for Meneyata Park Limited.  This plan would result in a reduction of three tons of sediment going into the lake at Papoose Beach and five tons at Hiawatha.

Permits were received the first part of October and by the end of 2018, all shoreline work had been completed on Papoose and Hiawatha by 4Evergreen Landscaping and Okoboji Tree Specialists.

Our grant was approved in January 2019 and we received matching funds of $13,000. The City of Wahpeton approved funds of $7,500 for the project.   In addition, some funds from Wahpeton Canals Protective Assoc. helped with the cost of the Papoose shoreline.  Previous donations not needed for the boat launch repair were used as well as some donations from MPLOA members.

In the spring of 2019, the area below the ordinary high-water line was very wet causing us to delay our excavation. We began working with Lakeside Lab for their expertise and ideas on the project. We were in the second year of not mowing the area below the OHWL. As the area dried, we realized that we had a large variety of native sedges appearing as well as native grasses. Although not remarkable in types, the fact that a sedge meadow was appearing so close to the lake created second thoughts on digging. Lakeside Lab suggested that instead of excavating any of the area, we add more native plants to the area to increase the filtering that the sedges had begun to do. We took their advice after consulting with John Wills and used our excavation funds of $4,000 to purchase native plants for the area.

A summer staff member at Lakeside Lab volunteered their time to meet with Prairie Flower in Fostoria and they selected plants and organized planting.   Coffee and Grounds, a group from Friends of Lakeside Lab provided other volunteers to plant.  By the end of August 2019, we had added a thousand new native plants to the area. Lakeside Lab's partnership provided us with invaluable assistance with vegetation maintenance and helped us remove undesirable plants such as Reed Canary grass and thistles.  The final part of the project was to construct a walkway over the wetland/sedge meadow so members could access the community dock. The walkway was funded from member donations only. Construction took place in the fall of 2019.

Want to learn more about wetland restoration?

Here are some resources used for the Hiawatha wetland project.