Liberty Nature Preserve


Man, are we gonna be busy this coming year!

With the completion of the driveway and clearing the pondsite in 2005, my only immediate concern was to relax, give my brain a break, and start paying down the debt.  I saw the coming months as a chance to do a little thinking about pushing dirt next summer and locating a building site to clear...not much more.  Yeah, right!  The more I think, the more projects I realize that should really be done at the same time.  In essence, the category becomes:  what should be done before water starts backing up?  Let the landslide begin!

Hmmm, where do I start?  Probably the area requiring the largest variety of engineering and development considerations:  the building site.  Here we go....

The building site:  Although there will likely be no home or garage built for a couple of years (at least), it behooves us to commit and clear the proposed area while the proper equipment (dozer and backhoe) is on site.  We have maintained our original choice, building site #2.  It will be on the eastern shore with a view that is west/north-west.  We have spent a couple of weekends staking it out, shooting elevations, and drawing sketches....kinda fun, but very important to "git it rite".  We will be using a septic system for waste processing, so we must reserve a proper area for the septic field.  I reached out to a local, reputable septic contractor for preparation input.  He advised to reserve a zone of approx 70' x 120'.  Then, a couple calls to the county Health Dept to verify construction restraints and options.  The good news is that the Health Dept will allow a field to be installed in proper fill.  This allows us to pursue our excavation plan. 

We want to minimize the amount of the timber area we clear for the building site.  We also want to create an area to waste soil that will be removed from the pondsite when digging for more depth.  Remember:  removing soil with trucks=big bux.....pushing soil short distances and leaving it=economy bux.  The building site is a gradual slope.  We will remove timber to create about 2/3 of the depth of the building site.  Then, start pushing dirt up into this newly cleared area and create a huge shelf or knoll.  The remaining 1/3 of the site depth will be created by creating a wide, flat bump-out into the pond.  A man-made peninsula.  All this will be created from the soil we scrape up from the pond bottom in the water area directly adjacent. 

If this sketch makes any sense to you, you will discern that we are working with nearly 16' of elevation change from the back corner of the site to the front of the man-made peninsula.  This entire zone will be filled with about 5000 cu. yards of soil dug out around the front of the peninsula.  The area is about 225' wide x 180' deep.  Because I want the foundations of the future home and garage bearing on undisturbed soil, we will have to locate them to the rear of this zone where the fill thickness will be much thinner.  The septic system, properly constructed and to code, will safely reside below a wide grassy front yard that is mostly the peninsula.  The dam will be nearly 700 feet away.  The views across the water should be spectacular. 




More details on the building site planning & construction


Now, while we relax since this commitment is somewhat completed (HA!), what other engineering issues could possibly be connected to this area AND need to be addressed right away?  Well, how about consideration for geothermal heating and cooling?  Yep, that's the plan.  I don't want to get into the specifics on how this works, but if it interests you:  GEOTHERMAL INFO    No, I have not commited to the particular looping method for the water transfer, but I have all  options available to me.  I am leaning toward the "open loop system", extracting the water from the well, running it thru the system, and dumping it into the pond.  I have not ruled out a buried loop or even a pond loop, though.  Either way, we must make a commitment before this summer.

Next issue:  a dry hydrant.  Once again, this should be done during the 2006 excavation.  Quite simply, it is a 6" PVC pipe that runs from near the bottom of the pond in front of the man-made peninsula, thru the peninsula and pops up somewhere reasonably close to the buildings.  A fitting that matches fire hoses is installed at this point.  The pond becomes my only fire hydrant source.

Next issue:  next to the building site is the access road that will be dedicated as a boat launch.  That means a proper launch poured with concrete.  Better do this one pretty quick...kinda tuff to do when it's under water.

Next issue:  boat launch, you say?  That means a dock, right?  I remember "putting in and taking out" my buddy's dock when I was a kid and it sucked.  I ain't gonna be doing that at this point of my life.  That means a permanent, stout structure that will require substantial support at the pond bottom.  Yep, let's bore some holes for concrete piers and pour 'em while we have the concrete truck here for the biggie.  Well, maybe not compared to the idea that the framework must be constructed fairly quickly before the water backs up.  The timing on all these projects "below the water" is based on rain.  Kind of a double-edged sword...I want it to rain to fill the pond, but not too much/quickly to allow time to get these underwater projects completed.  Not too much to ask, right?

Next issue:  ok, you rented the hole augur for the concrete piers to support the dock AND you have the trucks hauling in the concrete.  Better think!  What else?  OK, how about 9 more holes and concrete piers on the building site to provide a foundation for a large shed/shack?  Why now?  It's gonna be a place for us to get out of the weather, primitive sleeping quarters, and utltimately will be pre-engineered to become a small guest house later down the road.  Nope, no water well, no electricity, no sewage system for a couple years.  Don't lose faith!  We owned a houseboat for a couple of years and we learned a whole bunch about existance on secondary utilitites like batteries, porta-potties, and generators.  Oh yeah, let's not forget that Donna is a real trooper and, until further notice, will put up with this stuff so long as it isn't in a tent!  Anyway, I am deeply immersed in engineering this structure as it will be critical to git it rite.

Next issue:  I want a small sand beach.  The part that is out of the water isn't the issue as much as the part IN the water.  We will have cut a shallow excavation, line it with geotextile fabric, and truck in sand.  This is planned for the north side of the man-made peninsula; the other side, opposite the launch and dock.

Whew!  And that is only the immediate building site.  There's more....let's move to the pond.

Taking a pond to the next level...

When this entire pond thing was still a dream, the only real goal was a beautiful water feature.  I wanted affordable water frontage, alot of it, and privacy.  When we got to the point that the plans were on the table, it becomes apparent that stocking with fish is also an option.  As goes with all new facets of unknown subjects, I start digging for information regarding proper construction and management of fish habitat.  HOLY SMOKES, this is a big deal!  This ain't no "dig a hole and throw in some fish" kinda thing.  It is a science, trimmed with art-form.  As goes with all the peripheral details of developing this project, this is another "better do it now and get it right" situation.  The added value of doing right will pay back dividends in entertainment and equity. 

First, the type of fish to stock.  Most of my studies indicate the blend of Blue Gills, Channel Cat's, and Largemouth Bass is a good staple for midwest ponds.  Naturally, there will be forage prey like minnows, also.  Fortunately, we will have until 2007 to actually commit to the stocking since we will be waiting for enough water to proceed.  How 'bout dat!  Finally, a project that can kinda wait!  Now, back to reality... 

There will be bottom sculpting to create the known natural shapes that fish need to survive and hopefully fluorish.  There will be structure, basically strategically placed piles of junk, to compliment the bottom-scaping.  This will go from pyramids of old tires to old trees to piles of rock to an entire host of creative recycling, all providing valuable hiding, feeding, and spawning environment.  This entire "bottom-scaping and structure" thing is where science meets art, and it is very important.  Whodathunk I would have to deal with this, too?  Stuff like the following sample from a very popular and well known fish enthusiast, Ray Scott.   


A pro calls this necessary for a proper champ fishing habitat.  I call it overkill for our project.  We will use alot of these practices, though not as extensively applied.

Another consideration will be know, the bubbler at the bottom of the fish tank (causing the treasure chest lid to open-and-shut while the little diver stands guard).  Well, multilply this technique by "much larger" and you get the picture (I am fairly certain that we can dispense with the treasure chest and diver).  Because we will have no electricity for awhile, we may have to consider a unit that runs off of a windmill.  Jeeesh, I hope we don't really need aeration!  We will see...

The best Christmas gift I could have hoped for!

On Christmas Eve, Donna and I went out to Liberty with the express purpose of double checking a very important property boundary.  If you have taken the mindless hours to read most of this website, you may remember that the level of our water (normal pool) is dictated by one draw; the east draw.  This draw (a small ravine that channels water onto Liberty) runs back up and onto our neighbor's property.  When we back up water to fill the pond, it will also back up into this draw.  No, you can't block it off!  We must allow the natural drainage to occur, plus we really need that water.  Anyway, we cannot allow it to back up onto the neighboring property, including maintaining a reasonable buffer below this "zero point".  This draw (we call it the "limiting draw") runs across a 380 ft. long property line, thus the survey stakes are 380 ft apart.  When the leaves are on the trees and bushes, it is impossible to sight between the two survey stakes....and....I was not going to pay a surveyor a few hundred bucks  to come out and "shoot it".  We tried a GPS (global positioner), but the variable findings are not super accurate.  So, we made conservative guess-timates as to the location of the draw/property-line when we started shooting the elevations for normal pool back in July '05.  Now, Christmas Eve, the leaves are gone and, you betcha, we can now sight between the stakes.  The news:  we just picked up real estate!  Not alot, but enough for me to question if our original estimate was too conservative.  Get out the laser and tripod and let's shoot 'er one mo' time!  Badda-bing....we picked up 2 more feet of water level elevation.  Put a big ribbon and bow on this one 'cuz we're gonna use it!  Thanks, Santa!

A field tile leads to more water and history...

Our project relies directly on the surrounding run-off.  Ideally, in averages, a well fed pond in our region has 25 ac of drainage per 1 ac of pond.  We are working with about 1/2 that.  This is not horrible, but it will slow down the fill process and lessen precious feed stock during drought.  All that being said, we are still well within the ranges of required drainage for our project.  When the leaves came down this past fall, I did what I always enjoy...wander thru the woods and commune with nature.  This trip though, I was scanning to get a feel for the actual lay of the land and how/where it was draining.  While heading out of the pond basin,  I noted a small washed-out run-off channel (about 2 -3 feet wide) that headed back into the woods.

I followed it.  About 75 feet later, it gets real wide, deep, then stops at this big ol' crater!  I walk up the edge of this hole in the ground, about 6 - 7 feet wide and 3 feet deep, and look at the bottom to find the top of a round clay tile.  The top is busted and a shard the size of my fist is gone.

 Donna and I dig it out a little, take a buncha pix to document the finding, and then put the camera down into the tile and take a pic looking one direction, then the other.  When we upload the pix, the tile, as it heads toward the pond area, is totally plugged with soil....but....the tile, as it heads into Liberty from the farm field just the other side of our property line, is clean as a whistle!  John, our excavator, says this is a "blow-out" and is, indeed, a blessing.  It is a farm field drainage tile that got plugged and somehow busted open a new exit right here at the edge of our project.  The next question:  how far does it go and how much does it drain?  John says that this type of clay tile probably dates prior to 1960, maybe all the way back to the early 1900's.  We measured the inside diameter and got about 7-1/2"; John says this is fairly substantial and may be carrying considerable drainage.  To me, there is only one good chance to find out what's goin' on here....I call the realtor that sold us the property.  Coincidentally, she not only brokered the sale to us, but she brokered the sale to the guy before us....and that sale was from the guy that grew up on this and the surrounding property, total 170-some acres.  His name is Gene, he is now 78 years young, and I got the chance to call him at his home in Tennessee.  It was the coolest 1-1/2 hour phone call I can remember!  He gave me so much background and history on the property that I had to start writing it down to remember most of it.  His parents bought the place back in 1935 and he has grown up there,  leaving after retirement in the mid 1990's.  He told me stories about farming the ground and how farming was a community business, most deals made across the kitchen table.  He gave me the logging and planting history of the timber.  He noted that his father contracted with a government program in 1938 to plant 1000 Black Locust saplings at the north end of our parcel in an area that, at that time, was open field and the slope needed erosion control.  Well, I am here to tell ya that they grew...and died...and re-seeded to grow some more.  Alot of 'em were in the pondsite and got cleared, but a good portion remains on the north slope above the pond, between the two draws.  Great firewood and erosion control, but kinda icky and not much use beyond that.  John, my excavator, cringes when he refers to "wrestling with those nasty, crappy Locust trees" (I will say, tho, that the woodpeckers love 'em!).  Gene noted an old hedgepost in one corner of my parcel that is set in concrete.   We will find "1938" scratched into the concrete surface where he and his brother marked the occasssion.  I know the corner and the hedgepost is still there.  We kicked around the soil and hit concrete about 8" below grade....have yet to clear it out to find this little historical treasure.  He was very pleased to see our plans for the pond and the surrounding woods.  He even gave me a tip for picking up a little more area that was already slated to do so.  Very re-assuring.  He told me we will find a lone Beech tree in the east central portion of the 28 ac parcel.  He and his brother carved their initials in it when they were in grade school.  Well, this last summer while kickin' thru the woods, I came across this beautiful Beech tree specimen, all alone and set amongst the other hardwoods.  Donna and I have gone back to find the carvings with no luck, but this has got to be the one.

Oh yeah, the drain tile we found!  Yep, he knows all about it.  He gave us the history, it's trajectory, and what fields it drains.  Seems that it does not drain a super significant amount of field, but does add about 15 ac to my pond drainage scope, resulting in somewhere around 60 ac total.  Like I said at the beginning, what a great conversation! 

So, what's the big W.H.I.P.? 

Right from the beginning of our property search some 4 years ago, I became familiar with the many different government programs that are offered to preserve natural integrity.  There are a host of them, but only one seems to fit development of Liberty.  It is a program called Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, or WHIP.  The following introduction is from the DNR website:

The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) is a voluntary program for people who want to develop and improve wildlife habitat primarily on private land. Through WHIP USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service provides both technical assistance and up to 75 percent cost-share assistance to establish and improve fish and wildlife habitat. WHIP agreements between NRCS and the participant generally last from 5 to 10 years from the date the agreement is signed.  WHIP has proven to be a highly effective and widely accepted program across the country. By targeting wildlife habitat projects on all lands and aquatic areas, WHIP provides assistance to conservation minded landowners that are unable to meet the specific eligibility requirements of other USDA conservation programs.

We have been in contact with our local NRCS office since we first started research to consider purchase of the Liberty project.  They provided valuable soil assessments, maps, and other criteria that was necessary for us to decide if the Liberty parcel was going to be "the one", particularly if we could successfully install a pond.  I reached out to our county agent again this last autumn to see what level of involvement and assistance I could expect for our project.  Bill, the newly seated NRCS agent, jumped right in to get the ball rolling.  Regarding the pond itself:  they will help with the basic engineering and layout , but no cost-share or actual construction assistance is available.  If I decide to lower my pond water height to about 4 ft max and create a wetland, that would be different.  The government is VERY interested in anything related to creating, restoring, or improving wetland areas.  As it stands, tho, the Liberty project remains a pond project.  

He scheduled a meeting on the property with a state wildlife biologist, Bob.  The 3 of us met right after Christmas and spent about 2 hours of quality time reviewing our goals with Liberty, walking the grounds, and discussing ways to best improve it to the benefit of wildlife and eco-diversity.  This is where WHIP comes in.  Although they would rather see a wetland instead of a pond, the pond will add a valuable facet as a nature preserve.  Interestingly, Bob says that having a patch of dense woods (in this region) is not necessarily a top notch environment for wildlife diversity.  Most of the surrounding land in the region is fertile farmground.  What is left is timber.  What sorely lacks is the grassland regions that foster the diversity and wildlife promotion we desire.  Yes, the woods provide some habitat, but by far, the highest level of support occurs in native natural grasses, bushes and shrubs, and even weeds.  Knowing this, the main objective for Liberty is to establish native grasses.  We also discussed thinning out a small area of the timber that would be an ideal place to develop another zone with bushes and shrubs.  Lastly, there is consideration for adding conifers (pine trees) as selected brush strokes to help complete the painting that we envision as Liberty Nature Preserve. 


The black shaded areas are the proposed areas of WHIP improvement.

Native grasses:  A, B, C, D, E

Bushes and shrubs:  F

Conifers:  G, (parts of): A, B, and E

All areas have to be reviewed for eligibility.  We are fairly certain that all the native grass areas will be approved.  The rest of the requests for tree, bush, and shrub improvement have only been briefly discussed and remain to be seen.  Bill, the NRCS officer, has indicated with some certainty that the approved segments will qualify under WHIP as a 75% cost-share from the federal government under a 5 year contract.  Bob, the state wildlife biologist, concurs with enthusiastic approval.  We are now waiting on response regarding these requests and mind-planning the necessary excavation and engineering to execute them.  Very cool, very exciting. 

W.H.I.P. Feb. Update    We have once again re-engineered our goals for Liberty.  During one of my "here is another idea that I want to pursue" conversations with John, my contractor, the actual pond engineering got changed.  We were focused on discussing WHIP development area "F" when he noted that we could actually use that area for the emergency spillway of the pond.  That way, it doesn't have to be constructed around the dam, eliminating alot of damsite engineering and excavation.  More importantly, it moves the emergency AWAY from the most important empoundment structure...a very good idea.  Actually, it works out OK for us on the WHIP end also.  For us to develop that area "F" as a shrub and bush zone, we would have to remove alot of timber....that's excavation time....that's $.  It is also getting increasingly difficult for me to dismiss nice trees, so there ya go...strike zone "F" for now.  

That being said, the other zones do remain on the board and I am anxious to get as much going right away...if for no other reason than I would like to get a full year of growth established.  Because the pondsite zone is continuing to go thru the "tweaking" process and will not really be completed until later this year, it really is crazy to think that any government assisted planting projects will occur this year, either.  Why? Well, first, the commitments for the vegetation type and area square footages must be made...and then must be executed.  We are not at this point.  Secondly, most of the vegetation planned must be planted mid-late Spring.  Forget about that this year....except for zones A & B.  These zones are as ready as they are gonna be, so let's do those right away this Spring!  Well, here's the issue.  All the zones together will add up to enough work, as one project, to meet the required minimum cost for NRCS funding under WHIP.  If I split 'em up, each phase alone won't meet this minimum.  Bill, the NRCS agent, recommended that if I just cannot wait that I should reach out directly to Bob, the State wildlife biologist at the DNR, and see if the State will fund it direct in piece-meal fashion.  Bob was positive on the idea, so I provided him with drawings of the 2 zones, A and B, along with my vision of trees, native grasses, and wildflowers.  He concurred with this vision and made an offer.  Albeit a generous offer, it seemed to be somewhat slight in the pocket for the amount of work.  It also required a 10 year commitment...the NRCS deal was only 5 years.  Oh yeah, let's not forget that going this route means that I will have to pursue this same avenue next year because the remaining work will not make the original WHIP minimum requirements.  I discussed it all (once again) with my NRCS agent, ultimately relenting to his original, suggested wisdom of cooling my heals and just doing the entire project at one time when the pond area is completed and the big picture is very clear.  Besides trimming the commitment time to 5 years, there will likely be some additional economies related to not only working with the WHIP program thru NRCS, but cost savings related to paying people and equipment delivery to a jobsite at one time (as opposed to 2 separate visits).  Well, there it stands...for now...until I get another wild-hair idea...


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