Gift provides more protection around Big Wall Lake

Posted on September 21, 2015 in Press Center

The public is invited to attend the dedication of the James and Patricia Dinsmore Tract at Big Wall Lake Wildlife Management Area in Wright County. A ceremony will take place at the site at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15, followed by a reception.

The 130-acre addition to the WMA was made possible by a gift to Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) from Jim and Pat Dinsmore. The site will eventually transfer to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to become part of the complex of public land surrounding Big Wall Lake, a 978-acre shallow water lake that is along major flyway for migrating waterfowl.

“This tract would not have happened without Jim and Patricia,” INHF President Joe McGovern said. “This is creating a buffer around Big Wall Lake. Historically, there was no public land buffer around lakes. This will have a tremendous impact on water quality.”

The site also contains an agricultural drainage well that will be closed.

Big Wall Lake, which had been on the state’s list of impaired waters, underwent a major restoration starting in 2006. The removal of carp and increased outflow on the lake allowed beneficial in-lake plants to grow, and the lake was removed from the impaired list in 2012. Now the DNR is focusing on watershed management on the land surrounding the lake.

In 2011, INHF purchased an adjacent 99-acre property on which the cropland was restored to wetland and grassland under the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP). That property has since transferred to the DNR and is the first piece of what will become a much larger complex of protected land along the west side of the lake. After the Dinsmore Tract is completed, the next piece will be a 341-acre property on the northwest corner of Big Wall Lake. The Dinsmores also made a contribution to that tract, and INHF is currently raising funds to make the transfer possible.

James Dinsmore is well-known for his 1994 book “A Country So Full of Game,” an account of the wildlife present in Iowa at the time of early European settlement. He was an animal ecology professor at Iowa State University from 1975-2002, and taught many people that work in conservation in Iowa today, including McGovern.

“He was my favorite professor. He genuinely cared about how you were doing, and he was passionate about the subject matter and you learning,” McGovern said.

The Dinsmores have provided scholarships for ISU students majoring in Animal Ecology for the last 10 years, and they looked to make a gift that would protect some of the Iowa landscape that Jim studied for years.

“We wanted to find an area that matched our interests. I’ve always been associated with wetlands and wetland birds,” Jim said. “Big Wall Lake is a beautiful natural marsh. To think there is potential to build on that complex, that’s exciting. This could be the start of something that could be much larger.”

Dinsmore can remember the early days of the WRP and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), after the Farm Bill of 1985.

“I had no idea they could put water back on that land. I always figured it was a one-way process. The idea that you could bring habitat back was an amazing idea,” he said. “At ISU, I had students looking at birds that were making use of wetlands that had been restored from farmland.”

The Dinsmores were happy to find a partner in INHF for the project. “INHF is famous for giving people a way for their gift to make a difference.”