We don’t know exactly how old it is, or even where it begins and ends, but we know — or should know — the importance of the Driftless Area, which covers our tri-state area and beyond.
The Driftless, so named because it escaped the terrain-leveling glacial drifts of the Glacial Period or the Paleozoic Age of a half-million years ago, features rolling hills, majestic river valleys and spectacular bluffs — making it, in our opinion, one of the most picturesque places on earth.
And it’s right in our back yard.
What a huge back yard it is, touching four states — Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota — and covering some 24,000 square miles.
Now, 30 years is not even a blink of an eye compared to the 500,000 years that scientists say the Driftless Area has been around. But this month does mark a noteworthy 30th birthday. It was in October 1989 when the federal government designated a sliver of the entire area — 1,238 noncontiguous acres — as the Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge.
Featuring unique karst topography, the refuge was set aside 30 years ago primarily to protect some rare plants and animals residing in the slopes of the Karst region, including the endangered Iowa Pleistocene snail and a flowering plant, the threatened northern wild monkshood. For details: bit.ly/2Joh4f4.
While several tracts of the Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge are closed to humans — the endangered animals and plants take precedence there — three units in Clayton County, Iowa, are open to hardy visitors, including hikers, birdwatchers and even hunters. (Some uses require a special permit.)
Public use trails or amenities? Forget about it. Visitors to the Howard Creek, Fern Ridge and Pine Creek units must fend for themselves, but they can experience the region much as people did a hundred or even a thousand years ago.
This is a time when leaders of the federal government are lowering standards for water quality, attacking air pollution regulations and throwing open formerly closed lands for oil drilling. Thus, it’s particularly encouraging that we’ve had the Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge these past 30 years — and that it thus far has stayed out of the crosshairs of people whose priorities are not with the protection of the environment.