Motor Mill in Motion By: Jean Marie Hall
This is the first installment of a series of reports. This story first ran in the Clayton County Register in June 07. Part 2 Part 3
Motor Mill is one of the most popular tourist stops in Clayton County. And it’s not just a local attraction. Writer Larry Stone, Elkader, who travels Iowa as a conservationist and author, says when he sets out promotional material with his books and photographs, Motor Mill merits the most attention.
“People from all over Iowa comment on having been to the mill or having the desire to go there,” says Larry, “Often the Motor Mill pamphlets are picked up right away.”
The mill is a historic six story gristmill and four other limestone buildings erected between 1840-1870. It is located five miles southeast of Elkader on the Turkey River.
Visitors will gaze in awe at the beautiful scenery as they wind their way along country roads to the mill site. Once there, they will find a 155 acre park surrounding the mill. There they can go hiking, bird-watching, camping, canoeing or fishing. The Clayton County Conservation Board has owned and operated the mill and its surrounding land since 1983. Trails will take the visitor up the surrounding hills while they watch for wild flowers and listen to the song of a variety of birds.
Canoeists use the spot as a beginning or stopping point from the boat ramp on the site. Fishermen can cast a pole into the Turkey River to test their luck. Camping is available in a large area close to the mill site.
On the weekend of May 19-20, 2007, a Civil War Living History Camp was set up and a re-enactment carried out.
Next weekend, June 9 and 10, the Native Plant Society plans a tour of the area. This is a state-wide organization of people interested in searching out native Iowa plants. A Turkey River Clean-up Day is scheduled for the weekend of August 18 and 19.
Other tours on the schedule for this summer include the Cedar Valley Paddlers tour and the Adult Black Hawk County tour.
New hobby of geo-caching
While most of the activities enjoyed at the Motor Mill area could well have taken place at the time of the mill’s construction, a modern-day hobby, geo-caching, has been practiced there as geo-cachers have discovered Motor Mill as one stop in a series of caches. A container containing a sign-in notebook and various simple toys is hidden at Motor and the location’s coordinates measured with a GPS (Global Positioning System) unit. This information is posted on a Geo-cache web site and searchers bearing GPS units often come to test their skill.
In an effort to bring back the landscape of the mid-1800’s, the Clayton County Conservation Board is restoring an oak savanna at the Motor Mill Site. The project area is located on the ridge north of the cooperage. An oak savanna is made up of scattered oak trees above a layer of prairie grasses... The trees’ spacing allows sunlight to reach the prairie plants below. These rare plant communities once covered 10% of Iowa’s landscape. Fire frequently swept through these areas and was critical in maintaining this ecosystem.
In early 2005, many of the smaller trees were removed leaving only the dominant bur, white and red oak and walnut trees. This opening up of the over-story will allow more sunlight to reach the forest floor, thus promoting the resurgence of native prairie plant species. Two prescribed burns were conducted in 2005 as well. A second burn was carried out in the spring of 2007. The project is part of a memorial from the Robert Grau family. Robert was a charter member of the Clayton County Conservation Board and enjoyed spending time outdoors in both woodlands and prairies. The area will forever be known as the
Robert Grau Memorial Savanna.
Garlic Mustard Pull Day
Volunteers are needed in an effort to help pull garlic mustard at Motor Mill on Saturday June 9 from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Volunteers are asked to meet in the Motor Mill Campground and ware long pants, long sleeved shirt and a good pair of sturdy shoes. You may want a hat, sun screen, and bug repellant as well. The Motor Mill Foundation will supply a lunch for the noon meal. If you cannot stay the entire time, please come down for any part of the day you have available your help will be appreciated.
The 2006 May to October Motor Mill Tour season saw a total of 1,291 people from 26 states and two countries. In 2007, Motor Mill will be open for tours on the following dates: June 9-10 & 23-24, July 7-8 & 21-22, Aug. 4-5 & 18-19 and Sept. 1-3, 15-16 & 29-30. To reach the area, take Iowa Highway 13 to Road C1X (Grape Road). Continue four miles until you have crossed e concrete bridges. At the top of a hill, take the first gravel road to the right (Galaxy). Following Galaxy Road for three miles will lead you the mill.
Read Part 2