Lake Darling Bouncing Back After 16 Years of Restorations and Additions

Published: Mar. 3, 2016 at 10:08 PM CST
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Rewind about 16 years, and Lake Darling was in trouble.

"It really looked like a glass of chocolate cocoa," said Fay Vittetoe, member of Friends of Lake Darling. She said the lake had too much silt and mud, a result of runoff from surrounding farm fields and properties. Vittetoe said that's when the Friends of Lake Darling formed, and they got to work. "Usage of the park had fallen off dramatically, and we saw the need to try to revive the interest."

Through years of fund raising, obtaining grants, and working with surrounding land owners, Vittetoe said they were able to build a better Lake Darling. That includes adding modern amenities like flushing restroom shelters, a four-seasons lodge, and now, six brand-new two-bedroom cabins with a lake view. Vittetoe said giving Lake Darling year-round appeal means it now attracts year-round spending at local businesses.

"By making it a four seasons park, the most recent study indicates it will be an 8 and a half million dollar economic asset," Vittetoe explained.

Vittetoe said the new cabins should be ready to go by this summer. That's right about when Vance Polton, fisheries management technician with the Iowa DNR, expects to see more anglers enjoying the much cleaner, clearer water.

"Right now, we average a little over 6 and a half feet of water clarity," Polton told us. Compare that to just a couple feet before watershed improvement projects started years ago. "75 percent of the land draining in to the watershed now either goes through a pond or a terrace, which traps 95 percent of the sediment coming into the lake."

Polton said a recent survey of the fish confirmed it's working; they can see and catch their food a lot easier now. "The fish were actually a little overweight," Polton said. "It's certainly saying the fish have a lot to eat, they can find it, they can feed efficiently."

Park ranger Zach Haworth hopes those years of work will bring people back to what he calls a hidden gem.

"If it's been awhile since they have been here, they probably won't recognize it when they first come in," Haworth told us.