Vitamin N: Paint Creek Valley
Seeing isn’t necessarily believing—at least at Paint Creek Valley. The 368-acre addition to Yellow River State Forest in Allamakee County is home to the largest concentration of cerulean warblers in the U.S., according to the Audubon Society.
The cerulean warbler is a little blue and white bird with a distinct call, but they are often evasive to the eye. Their numbers have declined 70 % in the past 40 years, yet a population is thriving in northeastern Iowa. Paint Creek and the surrounding area is designated as the Effigy Mounds-Yellow River Forest Bird Conservation Area, making it Iowa’s first Globally Important Bird Area.
Ceruleans flock to Paint Creek because the park hosts an abundance of their preferred natural habitat, including cottonwood trees, bluffs and wet-soil insects. They’re hard to spot because the blue of their backs blends into the sky, and their white bellies match the cloud cover.
Paint Creek Valley also includes two miles of fishable trout stream, which is populated with wild brown trout. “We are delighted to get 200 yards, let alone two miles,” said Tom Murray of the Driftless Chapter of Trout Unlimited at Paint Creek Valley’s dedication last May.
Protection of Paint Creek Valley has been a decade in the making. The former landowner wanted to permanently protect the area but couldn’t find the right solution before his death in 2009. The land went to auction, and Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation was outbid. It wasn’t until 2011, when the land was up for sale again, that INHF was able to acquire it. Private funding, REAP grants and more than a dozen birding and fishing groups across the state made it possible for the $1.4 million project to transfer to the Iowa DNR, expanding Yellow River State Forest.
Anglers and bird watchers alike have reason to celebrate the acquisition of Paint Creek Valley, as do hikers, hunters and those who simply love the great outdoors. We bet the cerulean warbler is pretty happy too.