Long car trips to the lake could be less frequent for Quad-City water sport enthusiasts and nature lovers.
After decades of planning and more than $12 million in public and private investments, a manmade lake carved out of black Iowa farmland beckons just northeast of the Quad-Cities. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources' 400-acre Lost Grove Lake is now full of water, bustling with tens of thousands of fish and surrounded by natural prairie.
Just ask Jim Weibel, of Long Grove, who routinely has set sail on his windsurf board this summer at the lake, six miles east of Eldridge and three miles west of Princeton. He said he’s been tracking the progress of the “urban lake” since the DNR announced its plans in 1987.
“We’ve always had to go out on the Mississippi where you have the danger of fast boats and barges,” he said. “Here, you don’t have to worry about anyone running you over. It’s a dream come true.”
Thanks to heavy rains earlier this summer, the lake reached its full crest on July 21, almost one year after various portions of the lake first opened to the public.
While Iowa may not be the hotbed for water sports in the Midwest, dozens of anglers, standup paddleboarders, windsurfers and even kite surfers are hitting the clear, lukewarm water. And they’re learning to co-exist with one another throughout the 3.5-mile long, narrow waterway.
During a recent sunny afternoon off the banks of the mid-lake boat ramp, paddleboarders, swimmers and anglers shared the shoreline located just north of LeClaire Road on 250th St.
Kim Lent, who owns H20 Generation Quad-Cities in Moline, where people can learn how to paddleboard on the Sylvan Slough, weaved around the eastern lower, and wider section of the lake on her paddleboard.
“I could be out here for hours,” she said as she returned to shore. “You’re still fighting the wind, but there’s not a current so you can just paddle where you want.”
She recalled driving out to the state-owned site 20 years ago.
“We would try and envision a lake, but there wasn’t any water then,” she said. “It’s weird.”
The DNR began purchasing farmland from willing sellers in 1988, and by 1995, had almost every piece. The agency purchased the final parcel in 2003.
Crews will install docks at all three boat ramps later this season, according to a news release recently issued by the DNR.
Aside from a few “public fishing area” or "wildlife management area" signs scattered along the roadway around the lake’s perimeter, a lack of signage has confused some first-time visitors.
“Why don’t they sign it better?” questioned Davenport paddler Gary Moore. “We missed the entrance.”
Chad Dolan, fisheries management biologist for southeast Iowa for the DNR, said visitors should expect to see additional roadway signage in the coming year.
“Things are still new," Dolan added. "There’s a million things to do out there, and only about three people to do it.”
Those who live nearby, such as 243rd Street resident Leslie Howard, don’t mind the lack of signage at this point.
“It’s a rarity to have something this nice around here,” Howard said as he walked along the lakeside trail. “You can do it all here.”
Except, he added, go to the bathroom.
Currently, there are no restrooms on site, but facilities will be added later this summer or early this fall, according to the DNR.
Catherine Kling, director of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development at Iowa State University, said the DNR’s interest in urban lake development has surged in the past 10 years.
“One thing that’s very clear is that people like lakes of very nice quality that are close to them,” said Kling, whose department’s research indicates that a lake of this size with good water quality could annually see 350,000 visits and create about $20 million in local spending.
“The real value of these lakes is the enjoyment they provide to people that get to easily go paddleboard or go for a picnic,” Kling added. “Instead of having to pack up a minivan and drive all the way up to Lake Okoboji, you can very quickly have a nice outdoor experience doing whatever it is you enjoy doing outside.”
Dave Wiggins, of Stockton, who has been bank fishing at the lake every week since the spring, said he’s noticed an uptick in visitors since the DNR publicized the lake had reached its full crest.
“They’re all over the place, but it doesn’t really bother me,” he said.
And it shouldn’t. Wiggins said he’s reeled in a 23-inch largemouth bass, a 17-inch walleye and numerous foot-long crappies in recent months. These are no “fish tales” because he has the pictures to prove it.
In 2012, DNR fisheries staff began stocking the lake with bluegill, bass, crappies and redear sunfish, while channel catfish, walleye and muskellunge were added in 2013.
Fish cleaning stations also will be added next spring, according to the DNR.
Tired of catching crappie after crappie, Wiggins took a break from casting to reminisce about the days he and his buddies would cruise along 230th Avenue, which connects LeClaire Road and 260th Street, on ATVs.
“We used to ride three-wheelers down in there, and now the road runs right through the water,” he said. “This is a lot better.”