Habitat restoration taking place on The Narrows Preserve on East Okoboji Lake

By Joe Jayjack on June 21, 2023 in Blog

The Narrows Preserve

You may notice some changes happening at The Narrows Preserve on the shore of East Okoboji Lake, and they are changes to be excited about. While you won’t see any buildings or docks being constructed on the site, you will see more wildlife and scenic views — eventually.

Learn about the plans and timeline in more detail here

Following a historic campaign in 2021, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) was able to purchase 50 acres and more than 2,000 feet of East Lake shoreline with the help of a determined community that wanted to see the area permanently protected. Now, INHF staff and contractors are working to restore habitat to benefit wildlife and water quality on the site just north of Elinor Bedell State Park.

The Narrows Preserve — like much of Iowa — was once grassland, filled with species like Bobolinks, lead plant and prairie skinks. Depressional wetlands (potholes) dotted the landscape, filtering and storing water on its way to larger lakes. Now, INHF is focused on returning The Narrows Preserve to its natural historical state, creating critical, contiguous habitat for grassland birds and other species using a thoughtful approach and informed strategies.

INHF is in the process of surveying the site for archaeological resources and artifacts, which will help to inform any work done there. But other restoration work has already begun. Some of the things you may see happening at The Narrows Preserve in the coming year include:

Tree work – Considerable removal of brushy undergrowth and non-native trees has already taken place in accordance with guidelines related to sensitive species like bats. Increased sunlight from the more open canopy will promote new oak growth and encourage diverse prairie plants to bloom below. Possible bur oak tree plantings may take place as well. Restoration work may look similar to what the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has done to improve the oak savanna around Anglers Bay on the east side of Big Spirit Lake.

Grassland restoration – Management practices like carefully timed spraying or burning will aid in restoration of prairie grasses and flowers. Plantings will supplement what species already exist.

Shoreline restoration – A Water Improvement Fund grant and a Dickinson County Water Quality Commission grant will both help with shoreline restoration. Practices may include removal of trees or stabilization techniques.

Other – Interior fences that restrict the movement of wildlife and people will be removed. Control of invasive species will be ongoing. Terraces will be reshaped to return the land to a natural, gentle slope. Potential exists to create a wetland — providing further water quality benefits to East Lake — but a specific timeline has not been identified.

The Narrows Preserve is open for light public use, with access from the paved trail on the north end of Elinor Bedell State Park. Portions of the preserve may be closed to the public while restoration work takes place, and INHF asks that you please adhere to any on-site signage.