Each year thousands of local students, scout groups and members of the public shuffle across a boardwalk at the Hurstville Interpretive Center in Maquoketa, Iowa.
Visitors of all ages come to take a close-up look at 70 acres of wetlands and prairie habitats and the life bursting from these diminishing habitats. The center features full-time naturalists who coordinate educational field trips, public programs and environmental education.
The center serves as a working example of wetlands. In 2017, the center also became an example of how Ducks Unlimited conservation projects can restore functionality and life to wetlands. Iowa has lost nearly 90 percent of its historical wetlands to development and agriculture, and seeing these environments are an important educational tool.
The water supply for the 26-acre wetland portion of the complex had been diminished over the years, resulting in a dry basin most years. Ducks Unlimited in 2017 partnered with Jackson County to design a new water delivery system that pumps water from the nearby Maquoketa River to fill the wetland. The new system allowed managers to completely fill the wetland last fall for the first time in years.
“The center lets visitors explore a restored prairie and wetland,” said Mike Shannon, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist. “When the wetland went dry, Ducks Unlimited devised a solution to keep the learning environment useful for people and ducks.”
Heidi Lippens teaches 4th grade at Easton Valley Elementary in the nearby town of Miles. She brings her classes regularly to Hurstville and appreciates the refurbished wetland environment. Her students identify birds and other creatures on their hikes through the wetland.
“Before the project, it was pretty much just grass,” she said. “Now there’s water and ducks and lots of animals you can see when you go out there.”
Hurstville Interpretive Center is owned by Jackson County Conservation and serves as its headquarters. Daryl Parker, Jackson County Conservation executive director, said the facility is an easy-to-reach window to nature for the community.
“The beauty of this is that it’s so visible,” Parker said. “It’s surrounded by roads. The ability to see this and the waterfowl and wildlife activity is priceless.”
The site was established in 1999 as a wetland mitigation, or replacement, project by the expansion of U.S. Highway 61. The educational center was created in 2004. However, the Hurstville wetland went dry in recent years when its local runoff sources were impacted. “People have influenced land around it,” Shannon said. “Because of people modifying landscape they impacted the natural water flow.”
Ducks Unlimited engineered a pump solution that enables Parker and his staff to manage water levels to keep out invasive species, such as reed canary grass.
Funding for this project was provided by the Iowa Department of Transportation, Whitetails Unlimited Maquoketa Chapter, Friends of Jackson County Conservation and Ducks Unlimited.