DANVILLE — Residents driving through Geode State Park may be surprised to see a full lake instead of a construction zone.
Lake Geode was drained in the fall of 2017 for a watershed construction project that would reduce the amount of bacteria, sediment and phosphorus in the lake from agricultural and non-agricultural sources. The project was expected to take just over a year, with completion tentatively scheduled for the spring of 2019.
Mother Nature had a mind of her own, however, when heavy rains and flooding refilled the lake this spring to the surprise of park ranger Ulf Konig and engineers with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
“The lake being full again was unexpected,” Konig said. “Every day was amazing. It would just come up a couple more feet, and it was going over the spillway toward the Skunk River like a tidal wave.”
The watershed project has yet to be completed. Before that happens, though, the lake has to be drained again. As for now, the lake glistens and the park appears to be at normal operations.
“When the lake goes from being drained to being that full in a week, it’s shocking to see,” Konig said. “It was kind of nice to see the lake back. I was not displeased by that.”
Beyond the lake refilling, Konig said the state park didn’t see much flood damage. There were a couple of days where both roads coming into the park were closed because of flooding — Highway J20 coming from Lowell and Bridgeport Road coming from Lee County. The roads are now open.
Michael Dufoe, southeast Iowa district engineer with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said the project already was facing some delays because of the “weird winter.” A lot of snow and little frost left construction crews unable to excavate the way they planned.
Another thing delaying the project is that they weren’t getting the performance they were desiring out of the contractor, Dufoe said. They canceled the original contract and hired a new contractor, Peterson Contractor Incorporated. They will start late summer for a tentative completion date of March 30, 2020.
“It’s unfortunate, but there’s not much we could do with that amount of rain we were getting,” Dufoe said.
Dufoe said the lake is slowly draining back down. Before the lake refilled, 80,000 cubic yards of sediment had been dredged from the lake. There is 120,000 cubic yards of sediment left to remove.
Konig said visitors need to be careful when using the lake. A boat could easily get stranded if the water levels depleted quickly, although he’s not sure what the appeal to boating may be since there are no fish in the lake at the moment. In 2017 when the lake was first drained, some residents even got stuck in the mud while exploring the bottom of the lake.
Once the lake is drained, it will begin to look like a construction zone again, with dump trucks hauling sediment from the bottom of the lake.
They also will add a lot of new structures to the lake to slow down water and avoid bacteria build up in the future. Jetties and tree removal along the lake’s shore will allow for better fishing. Stones placed on the shorelines will help with erosion.
Konig said the jetties will be attractive to visitors who enjoy fishing in Lake Geode by creating more access points.
“You don’t really want to fish alongside another person,” Konig said. “You want to have a little bit of privacy and enjoy that time with your family.”
The state park is also undergoing some campground renovations, which were tentatively scheduled to be completed by early summer 2019. Konig said that they now expect the campground to open up again midsummer.
With ongoing construction, Konig expects visitation to drop to half of what they typically get in a year, which can vary between 100,000 and 150,000 people. When the campground opens, visitors will be able to camp, walk the trails and bike through the park, but a big draw to Geode State Park is the lake activities of fishing, boating and the beach.
“We still get a lot of leaf lookers, mushroom hunters, and a lot of motorcyclists, especially on the weekends,” Konig said. “Even without the lake, there’s still a lot of usage out here — people coming down and enjoying nature.”