Some days you just need an hour or two to recharge. You know, get outside, touch some grass, and soak up some of that good vitamin D. These days it's needed more than ever, as my family's summer schedule becomes, let's call it "cramped": from soccer practice/games/and field maintenance, to band and choir camps, Sunday morning praise team, VBS, and several other random visits, appointments, and events than I can barely keep track of: a simple walk is the perfect time to decompress.

Credit: Tom Drake Deere Dike Park during high Mississippi River levels.
Credit: Tom Drake
Deere Dike Park during high Mississippi River levels.
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Sometimes those walks end up being altered, this time by the current flooding. My wife and I were curious about the state of Deere Dike Park after the extensive rains and rising water levels of the Mississippi River. The path was well flooded and what use to be a fairly dry wetland at our last visit had become an extension of the mighty river.


So naturally we decided to walk along the roadway itself, as opposed to attempting to swim the trail. We were treated to an amazing show of muskrats, otters, birds, frogs, fish, turtles, and snakes. We really are quite spoiled for beauty when it comes to nature in Dubuque. This was just our second time stopping to this location in Dubuque and it was worth the short 30 minutes we spent animal watching. What really surprised me, was the outrageous number of muskrats on site. These guys were literally everywhere we turned, and they had an abundance of homes built near the marshy banks of the wetland area.

Credit: Tom Drake A muskrat lounges next to his lodge. Deere Dike Park has become a muskrat haven.
Credit: Tom Drake
A muskrat lounges next to his lodge. Deere Dike Park has become a muskrat haven.
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It's obvious that muskrats along the Mississippi River thrive in the rich wetland habitats that provide ample food and shelter. These industrious rodents build lodges and burrows near the water's edge, using local vegetation such as cattails and sedges. The river's diverse ecosystem supports their varied diet of aquatic plants and occasional small aquatic animals. Did you know that muskrats contribute to the dynamic river environment, impacting vegetation and water flow through their activities.

Credit: Tom Drake A muskrat lodge at Deere Dike Park in the fully flooded, youth trapping area.
Credit: Tom Drake
A muskrat lodge at Deere Dike Park in the fully flooded, youth trapping area.
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It's also important to note that Deere Dike Park is a youth trapping area and that muskrats are actually high valued for their pelts. Muskrat pelts processed annually are valued in the millions of dollars, even with low prices. Additionally, the USDA reports that trapping is commonly used for reducing muskrat damage. Economic losses due to muskrat damage can be quite high in some areas, particularly in agriculture and aquaculture producing areas. In some states, damage may be as high as $1 million per year. Their burrowing has also been known to damage roadbeds, railroad beds, farm ponds, lake lots, and golf course ponds.

Credit: Tom Drake These little guys are right next to the road and quite abundant, so they are super easy to spot.
Credit: Tom Drake
These little guys are right next to the road and quite abundant, so they are super easy to spot.
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Overall though, the species is highly valuable to our local ecosystem. They influence water ways. Muskrats process the abundant reeds and grasses for their homes and in turn create bird nesting areas. They also reproduce easily, having 3 to 7 kits (babies) at up to 3 separate times a year in our area. This makes them an excellent and abundant food source as they sit bottom of the food chain for several predatory species.

Credit: Tom Drake It's fairly hard to tell, but this was a curious little kit, he popped up to take a quick look at us before resubmerging and heading back to the den.
Credit: Tom Drake
It's fairly hard to tell, but this was a curious little kit. It popped up to take a look at us before resubmerging and heading back to the safety of it's den.
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Overall, these little industrious rodents are a great sign of a healthy and thriving ecosystem. So why not take a short trip and take in some of the true beauty of Dubuque. If you go now you're pretty much guaranteed to see them and their latest kits.

Photos: Dubuque's Deere Dike Park

A stroll through Deere Dike Park in Dubuque uncovers loads of wildlife and stunning views.

Gallery Credit: Tom Ehlers

Photos: Whitewater Canyon in Bernard, Iowa

The unique beauty of Whitewater Canyon in Bernard, Iowa- explore valley of the 13 caves, the scenic overlook, and a geographical formation known as landbridge.

Gallery Credit: Tom Drake

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