Goodbye town, hello wetland restoration

Photo found on a site for RR buffs (

Sedan Bottoms in Appanoose County, is a wetland built on the site of a (sort of) former town. I suppose it was never a real “town,” just a few houses and a couple commercial buildings at the intersection of two railroad lines. The settlement really only existed to provide service to trains coming through. For example, locals could easily dig up coal (used to fuel the locomotives), and so they did. You can read a bit more of the history of Sedan on a discussion board, or read an earlier blog post of mine about Iowa mining.

The railroads are long gone, and their disappearance probably had something to do with the demise of Sedan. Yet the bottoms remain: the site is in the floodplain between the Chariton River and Brush Creek, with a big river bend and various old channels around the property. Indeed, the Bottoms are recognized as valuable habitat, designated as a Wildlife Management Area of the Iowa DNR.


Cattail (Typha), probably T. latifolia. The female (pistillate) spike is wider than my thumb, as are the leaves. The male (staminate) spike, here disintegrated after pollen release,  connects with the pistillate spike.

After the railroad left, Sedan didn’t last long. Farmers worked this rich bottomland along the river, but undoubtedly flooding was always a threat. After the Great Flood of 1993, emergency funding was used to enroll 3,500 acres (1400 ha) into the Wetland Reserve Program, in which the USDA helps landowners with ecological restoration. Additional land acquired through other means have grown the project to some 6,000 acres (2400 ha).

Buying land was a good idea, but seemingly not enough: I found that my wetland is currently a construction site! A joint project of two Federal agencies and the state DNR, the Ecosystem Restoration includes a series of levees, culverts (pipes) and control structures (weirs or small dams) will allow managers to flood these bottomlands (or, not).





“But Paul,” you say. “All those big yellow machines hardly seem eco-friendly!” But it’s a funny thing about ecosystem restoration and management: it’s a messy business, and like any business, it requires ongoing investment and operational expense. I often tell my students, “once you start playing God, there’s no end to it.” Water must be stored and delivered at the proper times & in proper amounts, and erosion managed. Weeds must be controlled. Wildlife habitat must be provided. And if you never did the restoration, or did a one-off project and walked away, the system would still be continually affected by surrounding land use, upstream water modifications, and a hundred other factors. So yes, we’ll use piled rock and concrete, corrugated steel pipe and earth-moving machines. And just maybe, we can set the stage for natural processes to make the wetland bloom, and splash, and shine. Come visit sometime after the work is done, and tell us what you find!

Author: Paul Weihe

Associate Professor of Biology at Central College, traditional author (Textbook of Limnology, Cole & Weihe, 5th ed.; Waveland Press), and now...blogger!

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