AFTON – Memorial Day weekend is among the most popular times of the year for fishing and camping. Hundreds if not thousands of families will be enjoying their weekends at Union County’s several parks and lakes, including Three Mile Lake in Afton.
The 880-acre Three Mile Lake was drained or “renovated” by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in 2016 to eradicate invasive yellow bass and common carp. The lake was refilled and fish restocked by fall of that year.
Doug Jones, director of the Union County Conservation Board, said water quality has improved drastically from the point of being “marginal” in 2016 to “crystal clear” now, up to 10 feet deep. He noted cleaner water makes the lake more attractive to anglers and boaters, and more hospitable to everything living underneath them.
“When you get clear water you get light penetration down deep in the water and that simulates aquatic vegetation growth,” Jones said. “We’ve got a lot of submergent and emergent vegetation in the lake at deep depths. The fish absolutely love that, it’s habitat.” It generates more aquatic insects, which he described as fish food.
“We have recently built two sediment retention structures with fish habitat grant money, and they also double as walleye rearing ponds,” Jones said, explaining the structures prevent sediment he doesn’t want in Three Mile from washing down into it and diminishing the water quality he’s worked to attain. The county also collaborates with landowners on drain-tiling strategies in ways that benefit the entire community.
One pond has 50,000 baby walleyes, also known as “fries,” and the other has 100,000, all provided by the DNR. The fries were one-quarter inch long when the DNR placed them in the ponds. The conservation board waits 35 days until they grow to 2 inches to release them into Three Mile, which Jones said he plans to do next week.
Jones said he’s proud of all nine areas the Conservation Board maintains, but that he considers Three Mile Lake to be their “crown jewel.”
For campers who bring their trailers, Three Mile has 80 hookup spots — all of which are first-come first-served. He said so far the county has received about $20,000 in camping revenue for the month of May. There are many weekends that all 80 spots are occupied — which should be taken into consideration before making plans, especially by those traveling from several counties away.
Three Mile also has nine cabins and five shelters, which can be reserved at mycountyparks.com. Cabins are also in high demand. For the month of May, 270 of 279 available cabin nights were filled. The shelters are often used for large gatherings such as family reunions and wedding receptions.
The Three Mile Recreation Area has a large fish cleaning house with a hose and garbage disposal. A group of four fishermen, including Don Davis of Fort Dodge, were cleaning several bluegill Wednesday. Davis said the cabins they stayed in were “really nice.” Another group of two anglers said they limited out on walleyes.
Two new shelters have been built at Garfield Park with a grant from the South Central Iowa Community Foundation. The Foundation also provided a fully funded grant for the new life jacket loaner station by one of the boat ramps at Three Mile Lake. The board recently installed an $8,000 kayak launching dock at that boat ramp.
Jones said he loves hosting field trips for elementary school children because he believes it’s important for them to get outdoors and learn about nature through firsthand experiences.
Three Mile is a hot destination for fishing, camping, hunting, and other outdoor activities. Yet, the primary reason it was built in 1995 was to boost the water supply in surrounding areas. Water from Three Mile and Twelve Mile lakes currently flows to 11 different Southern Iowa counties.