Darling is Back!: The Restoration of Lake Darling

A Documentary from Marvo and Iowa Public Television


“If there should ever be a return of conservation to politics, I’ll turn
over in my grave if you don’t get up and fight.”

–Jay N. “Ding” Darling, September 17, 1950

Updates, Surprises, and Treasures!

On a bright September day in 1950, Jay N. “Ding” Darling made a rousing speech in front of a large crowd as he set the gate of the dam allowing Honey Creek waters to fill what would soon become a glistening new artificial lake created by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in southeastern Iowa.  Situated on land that had been strained by unforgiving farming practices, the new Lake Darling would bustle with activity as visitors enjoyed boating, fishing, swimming, sunbathing and picnicking.

The nationally-renowned conservationist, who had recently retired from a stellar career as Iowa’s premier editorial cartoonist, saw the lake named after him as an embodiment of a new awareness of conservation and a spirit of collaborative achievement he had worked so hard to promote.

Before many years had passed, however, Darling’s sparkling gem was caught in a spiral of decline that would extend into the next century.  By 1966 the east end of the lake was rapidly filling with silt from topsoil lost as soil conservation practices were ignored.  Newspaper headlines proclaimed, “Lake Darling Now Called a ‘Mudhole’” and “’Ding’ Wouldn’t Like It.”

Sediment containing pesticides and excess nutrients continued to run into the lake through the 1970s, and by 1998 Lake Darling was added to the state’s list of impaired waters.  In 2002, elevated coliform bacteria levels added to the lake’s troubles, which by this time included the deterioration of the dam’s spillway and the lake’s recreational facilities.

In spite of this bleak picture, the 30-minute documentary, Darling is Back, is a story of hope, of lessons learned and of a new generation taking heed of Darling’s doctrine.  It is the story of how a community with a population of 675 became the driving force behind a $16 million restoration and renewal project.  It is a story about clean water and how this essential natural resource is so often taken for granted.  Most of all, it is a story about people coming together to restore and preserve a dream of beauty and cooperation from more than sixty years ago.

Over the next year Lake Darling will boast clean water, activities in a stunning new lodge, and newly developed docks and trails.  It will be again a place where people can be outdoors and enjoy nature as Darling had visioned and celebrated six decades before.

The documentary will feature newly discovered footage of Darling and interviews with representatives of the organizations involved in the restoration project and individuals who joined in the effort as a community.  Contributing organizations have included the Iowa Department of Natural Resources; Friends of Lake Darling; Washington County Riverboat Foundation; the Cities of Brighton, Washington, Riverside, Wayland, and Kalona; local chapters of Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs and Izaak Walton League; and Richland Trees Forever.

Share with us the honor in bringing this extraordinary great American story to life!

For underwriting opportunities, please contact Samuel Koltinsky.
(270) 625-6815

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