Cedar Rapids, IA

Biodiversity study of Cedar Lake sparks community involvement

Taylor Coester

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Cedar Lake is often referred to as the "heart of downtown" in Cedar Rapids.(NewsBreak/Taylor Coester)

(CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa) Coe College students and faculty members are spearheading a study of biodiversity at Cedar Lake set to last through the remainder of 2021 – this is the city’s next step in bringing the community to the “heart of downtown.”

According to the school’s website, “Coe College is committed to environmentally friendly practices and sustainability. As an educational institution, Coe recognizes its responsibility to provide leadership in this area.”

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One of Coe College's boards used to examine wildlife is found along the trail at Cedar Lake.(NewsBreak/Taylor Coester)

The biology department seeks to raise awareness for local species, generate excitement for urban parks and educate all on the importance of biodiversity, according to the Biodiversity of Cedar Lake project.

Funded by a $2,500 grant from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), the project encourages all with a smartphone or camera to participate.

Community members can participate in this urban biodiversity project by:

  • Taking photos of organisms in and around the lake.
  • Adjusting the photograph so the organism is easily visible.
  • Visiting the website or downloading the app iNaturalist and joining the group “Biodiversity of Cedar Lake.”
  • Uploading the photographs to the project.
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Purple flowers blossom along the side of the Cedar Lake trail.(NewsBreak/Taylor Coester)

The project’s iNaturalist page has recorded 432 observations and 130 unique species from 31 different observers as of June 6, 2021. Assistant professor of biology and head of the project Daniel F. Hughes leads the charge having made 77 of the observations himself.

Hughes is also responsible for heading the project’s biweekly BioBlitzes. Each BioBlitz is an opportunity for community members to join Hughes and Coe College students on the 1.6-mile trek along the trail at Cedar Lake in their search for biodiversity.

The BioBlitz events allow community members to make a contribution to science in their city by finding as many species as possible – both plants and animals – in a certain area during the allotted time. Participants are encouraged to explore under rocks, on trees, in the water and behind walls.

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A bird sits on the branch of a tree at Cedar Lake.(NewsBreak/Taylor Coester)

The upcoming BioBlitz is scheduled for June 12, 2021, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Cedar Lake is often referred to as the “heart of downtown” as it sits in the middle of the city and surrounding infrastructure. However, misperceptions of the lake being a wasteland have also led the lake to be referred to as “The Slough,” according to the Friends of Cedar Lake.

With an ever-growing concern from many community organizations, the Friends of Cedar Lake created a “master plan” for the improvement of the lake in response. The plan was completed in 1980.

However, the IDNR instituted a fish consumption advisory at the lake in 1986 because PCBs and chlordane were found in the tissue sampling of bottom-feeding fish.

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Ducks and their ducklings rest on a stretch of land in Cedar Lake. A train sits on the tracks behind the lake.(NewsBreak/Taylor Coester)

Since then, the plan has been updated, infrastructure improvements have been made – including trails and picnic shelters – and ownership of the lake has been transferred to the city from the previous owner, Alliant Energy, following the decommissioning of the adjacent coal plant damaged in the 2008 flood. Taking back ownership has allowed Cedar Rapids to focus on making Cedar Lake a place for the community.

The IDNR also removed its Impaired Waters Classification in 2015 after the harmful chemicals were shown to have been steadily decreasing.

The water is now deemed safe for kayaking, canoeing and enjoyment by the IDNR, but despite the city’s efforts, the misperceptions continue.

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A man squats on the side of the paved trail as he gets ready to fish at Cedar Lake.(NewsBreak/Taylor Coester)

The city shares the goals of Coe College as it aims to boost community excitement and morale for the city’s centerpiece.

The Friends of Cedar Lake say on their website, “So relax. Go fish. Go paddle. Go enjoy Cedar Lake.”

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Taylor Coester is a journalism student at Boston University. Through her studies and as a correspondent for WTBU News, she has had the opportunity to report on natural disasters, government elections, and COVID-19. Based in eastern Iowa, she is excited to recount local news and culture, share people's stories, and be a voice for the public.

Lisbon, IA
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