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'The Mound' is point of local interest

"The Mound," located just southeast of Ocheyedan, is one of the highest points in Iowa. (Submitted by LARRY PEDLEY)

OCHEYEDAN, Iowa -- It's more than a mound.

As the residents of Ocheyedan may tell you, their community -- known as the "Home of The Mound" -- is one of the highest points in Iowa.

Digging in to the Mound's history, however, reveals a lot more than just depth of dirt.

According to Osceola County's Web site, the Mound is of glacial origin, though it was for a long time thought to be an Indian burial ground. It is a kame -- a hill or ridge formed by glacier deposits at the mouths of ice tunnels or channels.

"Small kames are numerous throughout the morainal country of Northwest Iowa, but few can match the Ocheyedan Mound. This landmark marks the farthest western advance of the Des Moines Lobe ice in this part of Iowa," reads the Web site Watchable Wildlife in Northwest Iowa.

"The Mound was formed during the recession of the Wisconsin ice sheet, the last glacier to invade Iowa, many thousands of years ago," details the Osceola site.

The Mound, located just southeast of Ocheyedan, rises 170 feet above the surrounding flood plain and reaches 1,655 feet above sea level. The mound runs northeast to southwest about one-third of a mile; portions of its summit are only a few yards wide.

The mound is open to the public year round and is accessible by a concrete and blacktop road two miles south of Iowa 9.

"There are (interdenominational) religious services there on Easter Sunday; we've allowed them to put their cross up there for a week or so," said Ron Spengler, Osceola County Conservation Officer.

"During the summer there's somebody up there almost every day; sometimes it's groups. I've seen college and university bands up there and several youths up there looking around. There is a little bit of use in the winter, some skiing and sledding," he continued.

As the Osceola site boasts, "The Ocheyedan Mound is one of the most beautiful hills in the northwest part of the state and its outline can be seen for miles in all directions."

It is also used it as a guide across the prairies, and it is now popular for picnics, steak fries and fireworks displays.

Tradition holds that Native Americans did use the Mound as an observation point and a place of mourning.

"There was a lady that lived out there for years and she had a scrapbook that I'd like to get my hands on," Spengler said. "There were some Indians from South Dakota that came out every year and stayed in her corn crib."

The Mound is comprised chiefly of sand and gravel with small boulders of various types, including granite, Sioux quartzite and limestone.

The Mound's original height is unknown, because sand and gravel was previously taken from its summit for commercial use.

Spengler said the county conservation office now maintains the Mound as a native prairie, using triennial prescribed burns to preserve the area.

"It invigorates the native plants that are original and it discourages the non-native European-introduced plants that aren't supposed to be fire-resistant," he explained.

The locale is also host to a variety of unique flora and fauna.

"It's one of the few places that I've found buffalo grass in our county, and we have several really nice prairie preserves. It's a gravel reserve of prairie and it's very dry; buffalo grass typically grows out in South Dakota or really dry climate," Spengler explained. "There's pheasants, Hungarian partridges, badgers and fox, occasionally a deer." Hunting is allowed, mainly for pheasants.

According to the northwest Iowa wildlife site, "Rush Lake and Sutton Lake basins just to the north of this site draw wildlife to the area. A variety of raptors -- including Cooper's hawks, redtails, kestrels, sharpshins and harriers -- take advantage of warm air rising off the mound to soar above the fields searching for prey."

In 1971, it was discovered that the mound was no longer the state's highest point, but Iowa's highest elevation is still located in Osceola County. The U. S. Geodetic Survey determined that a point on the Merrel Sterler farm north of Sibley -- now called Hawkeye Point -- is 1,670 feet above sea level.

The Mound, however, remains a noteworthy point in northwest Iowa's geography.

As the Osceola Web site reads: "The Mound is valuable for the many tons of material that might be taken from it, but far greater value is it to the state as a beauty spot, a landmark, which should be conserved for future generations."