Big Spring Hosts Educational Field Day - Elkader, IA

Release Courtesy of Clayton County SWCD

Elkader -- On August 12th, 60 farmers from the Upper Roberts and Silver Creek Watersheds enjoyed dinner and an evening of family fun at the Big Spring Trout Hatchery near Elkader.  The First Annual Landowner Appreciation Day allowed farmers and their families to follow the path of water that drains from their land to where it reemerges at Big Spring.  

Big Spring was originally developed as a fishing club in the late 1930’s by Otto and Mary Bankes. In 1961, the state purchased the property. Currently, more than 250,000 rainbow and brook trout are reared at Big Spring and stocked in northeast Iowa streams.  As its name implies, the water supply for Big Spring is fed by the largest coldwater spring in Iowa.  Flows usually range from 20,000 to 30,000 gallons per minute, but can exceed five times that amount during periods of heavy rainfall.  

Water from over 66,000 acres of surrounding cropland contributes to Big Spring.  Sinkholes in the basin, including some identified within the Roberts and Silver Creek stream channels, have also been traced to Big Spring.  Based on the unique geology of the region, the conservation practices that farmers utilize have a direct benefit on water quality.  

DNR Fisheries Biologist Gary Siegwarth provided a tour of the facility and emphasized the unique recreational opportunities that are available in northeast Iowa.  Gary reviewed the process for raising and stocking trout and pulled fish from the rearing areas to give the kids that attended an up close look at juvenile and brood trout.  The kids fishing pond was busy throughout the night, and the field day agenda also included horse and buggy rides around the hatchery.         

Jered Finley, Area Resource Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, illustrated the benefits of conservation practices with a rainfall simulator demonstration.  The simulator measured runoff and infiltration from five different cropping systems following a two inch rain.  As shown by the simulator, increased tillage dramatically raised the amount of soil and nutrients that left a field compared to the systems that maximized ground cover and improved soil health.

The quality of the water at Big Spring reflects how well farmers are protecting their land.  In order to accelerate these efforts, special cost share incentives are available to farmers within the Upper Roberts and Silver Creek Watersheds. The Clayton Soil & Water Conservation District secured an Iowa Water Quality Initiative Demonstration Project grant in 2013.  The grant supports efforts to promote cover crops, no-till and other sustainable systems within these watersheds.  These practices keep soil and nutrients in place on farm fields, and prevent them from becoming a source of pollution to water resources like Big Spring.  Watershed farmers seeded over 1,700 acres of cover crops in 2014.    

The Landowner Appreciation Day concluded with a meal and plenty of conversation.  The event was cosponsored by the Clayton County Conservation Awareness Network, Clayton County Pheasants Forever, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and the Clayton Soil & Water Conservation District.

For more information contact the project coordinator, Eric Palas, at 563-245-1048.

Alexa WahlClayton SWCD, event