Monday, October 20, 2014

Roads less traveled: The Colyn Area

I started this trip down a Lucas County back road to the Colyn Area more than a week ago, then was struck down in the prime of October by a virus and didn't finish. The colors will have intensified now as fall advances --- and it will be even prettier. So either use your imagination or go see for yourself.

I grew up just south of Colyn --- pronounced KO-line --- so it's familiar territory. But I don't remember Isaac N. "Ike" and Minnie Colyn, after whom it was named. Their farm was the largest piece of property incorporated into what is now an 853-acre tract four miles due south of Russell on the Chariton River.

For the record, Colyn remains state property although it is sandwiched between units of the 11,000-acre Rathbun Wildlife Management Area --- federally owned land along the Chariton and South Chariton at the upper end of the Corps of Engineers' giant Rathbun Lake that is leased to the state for management purposes. Headquarters of the Rathbun operation are located in the west unit of the Colyn Area.

But we're headed for the east Colyn unit, which is prettier and --- I think --- more interesting. To get there drive south out of Russell on paved County Road S56, curve east, then south and watch on your right for the sign pointing west to Colyn. Take that gravel road west to a "T" then turn left for a short roller-coaster-road trip to come up beside this sign.

I'm really fond of the lane into the unit, which cuts between hickory trees then makes a memorable 90-degree turn before coming out into a woodland area above the unit parking lot.

Water levels in the marsh pond vary considerably, dependent upon rainfall, but at the moment its about as scenic as it gets. You could launch a small boat now if you wanted to, hike around or just look --- hunting allowed in this part of Colyn in season. Much of the west unit is a refuge.

The Colyn Area and its former neighbor to the southeast, Brown Slough, were developed during the early 1950s in a joint federal-state effort to provide marshlands for fishing --- and ducks. Brown was built in 1953 and construction of Colyn started during September of 1955.

At Colyn, engineers engaged in a good deal of environmental adventurism that probably wouldn't pass muster today, with justification. Chariton River meanders to the north were cut off and the channel diverted straight southeast between dikes to form a 90-acre pond to the south and a 200-acre pond to the north.

The scenic wooded bluffs that edge the north pond now are bluffs that once rose above river meanders, still visible from the air when water levels are low.

The original plan was to keep water levels in the ponds high and stock them for game fishing. The river, however, never cooperated. The first of many major floods occurred in 1959 and again in 1960, damaging dikes, shoreline and structures and allowing rough fish to flood into the ponds at both Colyn and Brown.

The entire landscape changed after 1969, when gates were closed on the Rathbun Dam. Brown Slough disappeared, sort of --- although the state retained ownership of a couple of timber tracts. 

Although the Colyn Area remained intact, its recreational attraction waned in comparison with those vast expanses of water just downstream --- although it's still used locally.

Back on the main road outside the Colyn entrance, if you take a right you'll come to the parking lot down along the river for Hickory Hollow Marsh. Getting there involves a short hike.

When I was a kid, you could turn right about here, cross the river on a rickety old iron bridge, follow the dirt road across the river bottom and come up headed south on the road where I grew up. All of that has long since disappeared.

In order to get to the west Colyn unit, it's necessary to drive several miles now. Here's the sign marking the entrance to Rathbun Management Area headquarters just off what I would call the Transformer Road, although the electrical transformers that once were located at its intersection with U.S. 34 also have long since disappeared.

There are a couple of pretty ponds back in here, but the large marsh pond rarely has water in it these days.

And at the top of the hill --- called Bader Mountain by some --- is the shiny new Russell Sportsman's Club, replacing the the old frame cabin with brick fireplace that was the scene of many celebrations, parties and neighborhood gatherings when I was a kid.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources

1 comment:

Bret Runyon said...

I really enjoy your blog.