Lake Creates Wildlife Habitat, Family Recreation

Jeff Taylor wanted to go fishing. So, he made a lake. He also wanted to go water skiing with his kids. So, he made a big, long lake right in the middle of corn and soybean country in Ames, Iowa. Not exactly lake country – until now.

Taylor’s 9-acre lake started as a small fishing pond in 1998. “I decided to try and open it up to give us more recreational options,” he says. “I wanted to see if I could control algae problems with a deeper, longer body of water. I also wanted to try adding different species of fish. So, I shaped the structure with bulldozers to create shoreline, and then a friend and I added cattails with seed all around the edges to prevent erosion.”

The lake is on part of a family farm homestead. “It’s been in the family since around 1860,” he says.

Fishing, hunting, and water skiing

There are now 35 acres of wilderness surrounding the lake among the neighboring farm fields, featuring native timber, grasslands, and wild areas. The creation of the lake also enabled Taylor’s passion for water skiing, hunting waterfowl, and fishing. The lake is home to a burgeoning population of bluegill, crappies, largemouth bass, black crappies, perch, walleyes, and more.

“I even brought in a few purebred and tiger muskies, which are good predator fish, to help control the exploding bluegill population.”

It only took 18 months for catchable fish to mature. “These fish all started out in the lake as fry, and they grew really fast with no competition and a healthy environment. A new lake is a really good food source,” he says. “In just four years, we were catching 20-inch bass!”

Back in Taylor’s college days at Iowa State University, he and a friend started the Iowa State water ski club, which is still going strong today.

As a result of that area of interest, he crafted his lake so he could include a long slalom course that runs its length. His kids and their friends use it all summer between sports events and fishing forays.

His ski course is 2,000 feet long and 200 feet wide. At either end is an island for wildlife habitat. As an added benefit, skiers have a place to turn the ski boat around as part of the course.

Filtered in-flow

A catch station collects runoff water before it comes into the pond, and it filters out sediment.

“Silting is a big problem,” Taylor says. “Neighbors have been great, though. They help with the catch stations, which existed on that part of the farm before the lake idea materialized.”

Taylor encourages others to work with conservation officials to create wildlife habitats out of marginal farmland and to learn about wetland restoration.

“These areas are just a great way to establish native habitat for migrating birds including pheasants,” he explains. “Creating a lake is becoming more common in the area, but farmers have to be committed to do it.”

Focus of the family

Taylor and wife Shelly have two children, Jason, a high school freshman, and Amy, a seventh grader. The pond-turned-lake provides a place for them all to enjoy each others’ company. Over the years the lake has existed, there have been many changes.

“A lot of natural things have started to grow,” Taylor says. “The best thing is that during certain times of the year, we get passing loons, trumpeter swans, wild turkeys, deer, otters, and songbirds galore. We even had indigo buntings last year,” he recalls.

“Once you create a wetland, everything comes to you,” he says.

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