Looking out over the empty basin that once housed Mariposa Lake, Keri Van Zante still smiles when she thinks about the day conservation workers started to dredge the lake.
Van Zante, Jasper County’s Conservation Director, was on-hand during the draining process. Down in the muddy basin, two men were struggling to load catfish into a 50-gallon drum in the back of their truck.
“We got a lot of fish out of here,” Van Zante said.
Despite plenty of mud and adverse conditions, both fishermen were happily loading the catfish into the drum.
“I talked to one of the guys, and I asked him if he was supposed to be at work,” Van Zante recalled. “He said, ‘Yes, my wife is going to be really mad, but this is too good to miss.’”
On Monday, Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, toured the lake with Van Zante. Loebsack, an ardent conservationist, said he was impressed with the scope of the project.
“You guys do a great job here,” Loebsack told Van Zante. “This is really nice. It looks really fantastic.”
Now empty, Mariposa is getting a much needed makeover. Heavy equipment crews are busy removing dirt to lower the lake. When Mariposa reopens, boats will be able to navigate the waters for the first time. During the tour Monday afternoon, Van Zante pointed out where workers are building a boat ramp near the north side of the lake.
Thanks to a lower than expected bid, Van Zante said workers plan to remove 230,000 cubic yards of dirt from the lake, up from the 155,000 they’d originally planned to take.
That additional dirt means additional time, and Van Zante said the lake, originally scheduled to open this fall after a one-year hiatus, will likely not be complete until the end of this year. Once construction is finished at Mariposa, Van Zante said it will be up to Mother Nature to refill the lake. With the dam back in place, rainfall will begin to collect in the basin again.
“It’s not likely until next year,” Van Zante said. “There could be a torrential spring rain, and it could fill up in one day.”
Loebsack offered to do whatever he could to help Van Zante with the project.
“I think this is fantastic, and if there’s any potential for federal funding, I’ll do my best to help,” Loebsack said. “I think they’ve pretty much got what they need right here.”
Even with a makeover, Mariposa will still look familiar to most visitors. Van Zante said the island in the middle of the lake will stay, but many of the changes will occur under the surface of the lake. Workers are constructing “catfish condos” and other fish habitats that will help repopulate the lake and keep it teeming with wildlife.
Although they won’t be visible above the surface of the lake, fishermen will be happy to know the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has mapped the lake, including the fish habitats. Van Zante said those maps are available online for interested anglers.
“They make it easy don’t they,” Loebsack said.
After a previous visit from Loebsack where he had a chance to meet with campers, Van Zante said she fielded a lot of questions from students, many of whom were excited to meet someone who works with the President of the United States. On Monday, Van Zante said she hopes the president is aware of projects like Mariposa Lake.
“It would be nice if you could get the president to see what we’re doing here in these small towns,” Van Zante said.
Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or email@example.com