Who doesn’t love a treasure hunt?
And we are fortunate to have all kinds of them, right in our backyard. So let’s get out and explore, discover and enjoy these treasures as part of the celebration of Clear Lake Earth Days. There is even a chance to win a prize! It’s easy! Here is a list of Backyard Treasures scattered throughout the area. Choose your site, go check it out and enjoy it. Then show that you’ve been at the site by taking a selfie (Including a recognizable part of the site to help document that you were there) and post it at #cltreasures.
And then go to as many other backyard treasure sites as you can, take a selfie and post it – all before a deadline of 11:59 p.m. April 30. Winners will be randomly chosen from the posted selfies.

1) Aquarium Display – Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 1203 North Shore Drive. Get up close and personal with fish from Clear Lake. Open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday from mid to late April (depending on the lake ice-out date) until October 15. DNR staff catch the fish for the display each spring and release them before the lake freezes over. Call 357-3517 to see if the display is open.

2) Central Gardens of North Iowa– Corner of 2nd Avenue North and North 8th Street. Central Gardens of North Iowa, Inc. is always a work in progress and is really many gardens in one location. The original design calls for 22 different themed gardens. In 2006 the stunning Moon Gate at the north end of the property was installed, as was the waterfall feature. Next was the Nature Education Pavilion which was built from 2008-09. It houses the Garden offices, and two meeting rooms, one of which also serves as the “bride’s” room during wedding rentals. The beautiful fountain feature at our main gate was built in 2009-10. In 2011, the Mother Earth Workshop which provides support for our many volunteers by housing tools, equipment, supplies, and even a greenhouse and is the location for the Fresh On Friday bouquet creations. And our last “hardscape” additions, the welcoming Gazebo and the donor wall, were both completed in 2015.
The existence of Central Gardens of North Iowa is a tribute to many visionary and civic-minded individuals and groups who saw the potential that a public gardens could offer North Central Iowans. Little did they realize that the Gardens would become the destination for over 15,000 guests every year from nearly every state and many countries!

3) Cerro Gordo Wind Farm – 10586 Balsam Avenue. An educational kiosk explains how wind is harvested as a sustainable energy source in North Iowa.

4) The Nature Conservancy’s Clausen Cove – In January 2008, Max Clausen of Clear Lake donated his 249 acres of land, including undeveloped lake shoreline, oak savannas and farmland to The Nature Conservancy. TNC goals for this property are to protect Clear Lake’s water quality and resources while preserving the scenic open space for the community.
The Nature Conservancy permits passive use of the property including anchoring boats, swimming, hiking, bird watching, natural resource interpretation, environmental education, scientific research and scenic enjoyment. There will be a staged restoration of the agricultural farmland to native plant communities. Visitors are to remove their own litter, stay on footpaths and observe prohibited uses of campfires, hunting/trapping and motorized vehicles.

5) Clear Lake Area Outdoor Classroom – 901 South 4th Street. People of all ages can enjoy this accessible 2 ½ acre learning center adjacent to Clear Creek Elementary School. Pathways lead through prairie, woodlands and wetland areas. Here is the place to view the majestic trumpeter swans in the spring, summer and autumn. Birdhouses, bat and butterfly houses add to the attractions as well as a hibernaculum for reptiles.

6) Two Diverse County Parks – Haugen Wildlife Area – 22151 Apple Avenue features native prairie including Prairie Cordgrass, Big Bluestem, Indiangrass, Compass Plant, asters, sunflowers, lobelias and gentians and others. Kuhn Wildlife Area – 1873 310th St., Ventura. 80 acre site along the Winnebago River features fishing and canoe access.

7) Filter boxes – There are over 20 storm water filtration systems which help with lake water quality. In most cases, the only visual evidence of their existence is a series of manhole covers. A few locations include: Clear Lake City Beach; S 3rd St and 25th Ave; Maple St; Bayside Ave; Black Locust Ave (Ventura Heights); Ventura Cove; All Vets, 18th Street. Storm water filter boxes, or grit collection chambers, capture storm water and remove contaminants from it before it reaches the lake. These systems are connected to the existing storm water drainage system and are capable of removing contaminants from rain events that are 2″ or less. They have been shown to reduce sediment by 80% and phosphorus by 70% in storm water runoff.

8) Hand-Painted Murals at the Clear Lake Public Library – Feel like you are kayaking through Ventura Marsh for an up close and personal view of its habitat, including painted turtles, Canada geese, muskrats, walleyes and more. Or view the Grant Wood-like Clear Lake area landscape mural to gain a deeper appreciation of our surrounding natural beauty. The murals are painted by area artist Sandra Quintus and were donated as part of a bequest to the library.

9) Hoffman Prairie – At the intersection of Balsam Avenue and Highway 18 (north of the McIntosh Wildlife Area). The 37 acre example of a wet, tallgrass prairie is dotted with beautiful wildflowers in the spring and home to 150 plant species and rare butterflies. The Nature Conservancy purchased it from Larry Hoffman in 1985 and it was dedicated as a biological and geological preserve in 1986.

10) Lon Whitney Wildlife Sanctuary – At the junction of Lee and Bayside. This unique woodlot was donated to the Cerro Gordo County Conservation Board by longtime Clear Lake resident Lon Whitney’s estate and is managed as an urban wildlife area.

11) Osprey Hack Tower – On the east end of the Iowa Regular Baptist Camp in Ventura. Clear Lake and Ventura area residents participated in this exciting Iowa Department of Natural Resources project to re-introduce osprey to Clear Lake. Beginning in July 2004, fledgling osprey were brought from Wisconsin to the hack tower where volunteers fed the young birds until they were able to fly and feed themselves. Volunteers and the DNR built the hack tower. It is hoped osprey will return to their Clear Lake “nest” for the next generation.

12) Porous Pavement – 7th Ave S. Public Approach; S 3rd Street and 1st Ave S. This urban conservation practice allows rainfall to infiltrate on-site rather than flow through a storm drain to the lake. Contaminants are removed from the water as it moves into the soil. The practice consists of a porous paver block surface that allows water to infiltrate to a rock trench below it. A rain garden at the end of the drainage captures and infiltrates the water that makes it past the porous paver blocks.
Rain Gardens – The City of Clear Lake has been proactive in incorporating this important conservation practice into recent projects. CL Tel also installed a rain garden when it constructed a parking lot and handicapped access to The Supper Club Clear Lake. Locations: 7th Ave S Public Approach; S 3rd St and 1st Ave S; N 3rd St and 1st Ave N (Between CLTel and The Supper Club; CL Yacht Club Building; Maple Street. This urban conservation practice also allows rainfall to infiltrate on-site rather than flow through a storm drain to the lake. Contaminants are removed from the water as it moves into the soil. Rain gardens are often planted with native grasses and forbs as these plants have deep root systems and can handle local temperature and precipitation fluctuations. Many ornamental species work well too.

13) Shoreline stabilization projects – At Dead Man’s Curve just east of the Iowa Regular Baptist Camp, Lynn Lorenzen Park, the Sea Wall, Redeemer Lutheran Church (Ventura); Ventura Heights Park, Clear Lake State Dock and numerous private properties. The sloughing of shoreline into the lake can add several tons of soil to the lake each year. The majority of shoreline sloughing takes place due to ice heaving or due to wave action during high water. Stabilizing a shoreline consists of reshaping it to a more gradual slope and then armoring it with native fieldstone.

14) Ventura Cove – One of the last undeveloped lake shorelines and 26 acres of woodlands and wetlands was preserved in July 2006, thanks to a partnership between private and public donors, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. A massive cleanup was done by volunteers and the cities of Clear Lake and Ventura and CL Tel. The INHF provided an easement to the Cerro Gordo Recreational Trails Association which raised money to construct a scenic bike trail through the woodlands. After the $1.7 million was raised, the property was transferred to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Wild turkeys, bald eagles and deer can often be seen here.

15) Winter Garden Park – 1220 North 16th Street West – This 70 acre area Cerro Gordo County wildlife area was once a glacial lake-bed, deep beneath the waters of Clear Lake. It is a popular sledding area and provides hikers panoramic views of the Grant Wood-like Iowa landscape to the north.

16) Woodford-Ashland Lone Tree Point Nature Area – This privately-owned area includes over 290 acres of woodlands, wetlands, restored prairie and a mile of wild and scenic shoreline. The Nature Area provides habitat for bald eagles, owls, herons, wild turkeys, whitetail deer, red fox and other native wildlife. An oak savanna and wetland are being restored.
To ensure that it will never be developed, owners donated a conservation easement in 1992 for the nature area to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. Owners manage the area, but public access is allowed for non-consumptive uses such as bird watching, hiking, cross country skiing, wildlife observation and photography. Visitors are to remove their own litter, stay on footpaths and observe prohibited uses of campfires, hunting/trapping and motorized vehicles.
Sisters’ Prairie – In 2003, work began on the adjoining Sisters’ Prairie restoration project of over 190 acres. The wetlands and prairie habitat have a significant positive impact on lake water quality by filtering nutrients and sedimentation from surrounding farmland. It also provides excellent wildlife habitat. The family worked with the Cerro Gordo County office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service to ensure permanent protection..