Friday, March 27, 2015

Our Family of Trails

Spring is most definitely in the air! Time to pack up those snow boots and dust off the warm weather gear as the spring melt makes way for outdoor fun here in central Iowa. Here at Polk County Conservation, we got you covered!
Our family of parks covers over 14,000 acres across the county stretching from Granger down to Mitchellville. PCC has been devoted to conservation and protection of Polk County's natural heritage as well as providing quality outdoor recreation since 1956. Outdoor enthusiasts will find our trails useful for a variety of activities including hiking, cycling, birding, skating and cross-country skiing (dare we think back to the winter months).

Land acquisition for recreational trails and greenbelts has become a priority in Iowa's most populous county. The 110-mile Central Iowa Trail Loop is part of this priority. Meandering through towns along the way, this loop seeks to foster connections amongst communities along the trail as it connects existing parks, trails and businesses across five counties.

Our Family of Trails

 The High Trestle Trail extends over 25 miles from Ankeny to Woodward also connecting Sheldahl, Slater and Madrid along the way. This trail is a major link in the Central Iowa Trail Loop. A former railroad bridge that spans across the Des Moines River, located between Woodward and Madrid, is the focal point of the trail. This one half mile bridge rises 13 stories high with special lighting and six overlook spots where people can step aside and enjoy the views. This trail bridge is the fifth largest in the world!

The Chichaqua Valley Trail begins its scenic route just west of Mally's Park and extends 25 miles to Baxter. This former rail line was used by several railroad companies who left behind historic markers along the way indicating the distance to Kansas City. Keep a lookout for these throughout the trail!

The Gay Lea Wilson Trail makes up the lower portion of the Central Iowa Trail Loop. This 35 mile trail extends through eastern and northern parts of Polk County. Parking and access to this trail is available at Carney Marsh in Ankeny, Sargent Park in Des Moines and Copper Creek Plaza in Pleasant Hill.

The Great Western Trail stretches over 16.5 miles beginning near Water Works Park in Des Moines and ending in Warren county near Martensdale. The trailhead is located on Valley Drive/George Flagg Parkway near Park Avenue. This historic trail dates back to the late 1800's when the Chicago Great Western Company operated trains on this line. Be sure to keep an eye out for a trail marker indicating the site of a train wreck along Four Mile Creek. 

The Trestle to Trestle Trail is a 3.7 mile stretch that serves as a link between Des Moines and the northern suburbs. Trailheads are located at River Place off Euclid Avenue on the west side of the Des Moines River and on NW Lower Beaver Drive.

Trail maps are available on our website. Click here for further details. 

Come On Out and CELEBRATE!

The Grand Opening of the Chichaqua Valley Trail Connector between Mally's Park and Bondurant will be celebrated on Saturday, April 25th in the communities of Berwick, Bondurant, Mingo, Ira, and Baxter. Festivities begin at 7:00 a.m. in Berwick and continue throughout the day in all of the communities.

  • 7-10 a.m. - Kick-off Breakfast - Berwick Congregational Church
  • 8 and 9 a.m. - Yoga in the Park - Mally's Park
  • 8-10 a.m. - Bike helmet fittingg/Give-a-way - Mally's Park
  • 8-10 a.m. - Bike Tune-ups - Mally's Park
  • 10 a.m. - Ribbon Cutting - Mally's Park
  • Fire Truck on Display in Mally's Park.
Other activities will happen at the following locations:

  • Depot Trailhead - Bondurant
  • Founder's Irish Pub - Bondurant
  • Greencastle Tavern - Mingo
  • Community Center - Ira
  • Cadillac Jack's - Baxter
Grand Opening Trail Guides are available at: Berwick Post Office, Founder's Irish Pub, Baxter City Hall, Bondurant City Hall, Greencastle Tavern, Cadillac Jack's, Jack Bucklin Auto Parts.

Click here for detailed event information including sponsors, maps, and community attractions.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Preventing "Nature Deficit Disorder", One Outdoor Experience at a Time

In the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day routines, it's easy to overlook things not planned while attempting to check off those important items on our to-do list. But what is it that we may be missing? What void lies in waiting, languishing in the background of things that need to be done each day,  hoping for a reprieve from the over-stimulated environment of the latest electronics and gadgets that keep us preoccupied within the four walls of home, work and school?

The last 200 or so years of human evolution has brought about many great leaps and bounds in our knowledge and capacity to operate more efficiently. However, it has also brought the majority of us out of direct daily contact with the natural world. And this phenomenon has far-reaching effects on our brains which have been hard-wired for thousands of years to be a part of, rather than apart from, nature.

In his acclaimed novel "Last Child in the Woods", Richard Louv laid claim to the term "nature deficit disorder". In this indoor-centered culture, children are spending less than 4 minutes each day outside while devoting nearly 6 hours each day to screen time (computer, television, etc.), according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's "No Child Left Inside" initiative. While not a condition in a medical sense, "nature deficit disorder" was coined as a descriptive measure taking into account the detriment of isolating children from nature. Issues associated with this include attention problems, anxiety, depression and obesity as well as lowered cognitive functioning.

What can you do for your family?

Bringing nature to the forefront rather than the background in which we conduct our lives remains of critical importance in today's world. Decreasing the gap in awareness of this issue is necessary for raising up healthy families and communities for generations to come. It may seem daunting to squeeze in any time of what might be left in the day to outdoor play. But luckily, right here in Polk County, our Environmental Education Department (EE) is dedicated to getting your family active in the outdoors.

Environmental education in a child's life promotes many benefits. Encouraging children to actively engage in outdoor play sparks the imagination by encouraging the participant to view the interconnectedness of the world around them in regards to the natural environment. This hands-on approach to learning is not available in the structured confines of a traditional classroom. Instilling a love of living things rather than a fear (biophilia vs. biophobia) by exposing children to the wonders of nature cultivates an appreciation for the natural world around them. Curiosity of nature fosters a yearning to think critically as well as honing basic skills that lend well to all areas of life. Environmental education becomes an important asset in today's buzzing electronic and plastic world.

 What are you waiting for?! Get outside!

The Environmental Education Department here at Polk County Conservation has many opportunities to get you plugged into a variety activities whether you're 2 or 102!

Survivor Day Camp

Jester Park Equestrian Center

    Mar 17, 2015 @ 9:00 - 3:00 p.m.

Campers will have fun learning and staying active. Activities will include archery, fishing skills, geocaching, and survival skills. Students will make their own lunch over a fire they help build. Activities will take place both indoors and out.

Pre-registration required; deadline is March 10. Ages 10-12 years. Fee: $30. To register, click here.

Spring Break Horse Camp

Jester Park Equestrian Center

Monday, March 16 @ 9:00 - 2:00 p.m.

Thursday, March 19 @ 9:00 - 2:00 p.m.

Friday, March 20 @ 9:00 - 2:00 p.m.

Spring break is here! Are your kids going stir crazy in the house? Bring them out for some horsey fun over the spring break holiday. Camps will include safety training, horsemanship skills, a riding lesson, a wagon ride, and a nature hike.

Camps are by reservation and are $60/session. To register, call (515) 999-2818.

Registration for the following summer camps opens Saturday, February 28.  

These day camps are designed to encourage hands-on learning through outdoor explorations, activities, games, crafts, and more. Camps will be led by naturalists. 

 Discovery Camp
July 6-9
9:00 - 11:00 a.m.
Ages: 6-7 years

This camp is all about animals! Learn about the basic animal groups: insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. There will be plenty of games, live animals, snacks, and more! 

Pre-registration required; Fee: $60. Registration deadline is June 29. Limited to 12 campers. Meeting location: Jester Park, Shelter #5

Water Wonders Camp
June 8-11
9:00 a.m.– 3:30 p.m.
Ages: 8-9 years

Come and get your feet wet as we discover all we can about water. We’ll compare ponds, rivers, lakes, and wetlands plus the animals that live in them. Daily field trips will take us to various Polk County parks. 

Pre-registration required; Fee: $120. Registration deadline is May 25. Limited to 12 campers. Meeting location: Jester Park, Shelter by Lodge

Junior Naturalist Camp
June 15-18 and June 22-25
9:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Ages: 10-11 years

Do you know a child who loves the outdoors? Campers will spend the week fishing, canoeing, hiking, geocaching and more while exploring the outdoors. Campers will also learn how to use a compass, build a fire, and cook a snack over a fire. On the last day of camp, campers will become official Iowa Junior Naturalists and receive a badge and certificate. Daily field trips will take us to various Polk County parks. 

Pre-registration required; Fee: $120. Registration deadline is June 1. Limited to 12 campers. Meeting location: Jester Park, Shelter by Lodge

Keep Polk County Conservation's Summer Skills series on your radar as well (beginning in June)!
Summer is about having fun and playing outside. Join our naturalists as they introduce your child to some fun outdoor activities which can be enjoyed the rest of their lives. Geared for youth 10-16 years old. Come to one or sign-up for an entire series.
All equipment will be provided. Pre-registration required. Fee: $10.

Be sure to check out our calendar of events for upcoming events and programs for adults.

From weekend backpack and kayak trips to wildflower hikes, from beekeeping and edible gardening basics to volunteer events, we have it all for every interest and ability level!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Iowa's Winter "Slumber" Party

Courtesy of Scientific Beast
 In the depths of winter, we animals of the human variety tend to fall into three categories - those who anxiously strap on their boots at the first sign of a falling snowflake; those that setup shop fireside with a good book and hot coffee/cocoa in hand earnestly waiting for the sun's rays to penetrate the frosted landscape; or those who fall into that "happy medium" category.  But what do our animal counterparts do to pass the time before the days lengthen and the first green shoots emerge from the ground and trees? Animals of all kinds here in Iowa function at both ends of and along the spectrum (hey - just like us!).  Critters will migrate, adapt or hibernate during these frozen winter months.

Hit the road, Jack (or adapt!)

Well-known migratory animals that travel in search of food sources and warmer weather include various songbirds, waterfowl and butterflies.  Adapters are those who stay active in winter and adjust as a result of changing weather conditions. This may mean growing a thicker winter coat of fur. Certain birds will molt their feathers from breeding season into the more subdued and subtle colors of winter plumage. Other adaptations include diet changes. Deer and rabbit thrive on moss, twigs, bark and leaves. Red fox subsist on small rodents in place of the fruits, grasses and insects that were available during the warmer months.

But who hibernates here in Iowa?

Reptiles and amphibians sure do! These two collectively make up a group referred to as "herps", this word derived from herpetology or the study of reptiles and amphibians. Herps rely on radiant heat from the environment for body temperature regulation, making them ectothermic creatures. During the cold winter months, herps hibernate as a means to slow body functions which conserves energy needed for life. Hibernation for these critters usually occurs at the bottom of ponds and lakes, buried in mud or below the frost underground. 

What about mammals? Which ones hibernate?

Here in Iowa, we can expect raccoons, skunks, bats, and chipmunks to enter into light (elongated periods of sleep but still awaken) to true hibernation dependent upon the species. Woodchucks, or groundhogs, are a prime example of true hibernation where heart rate goes from 80 beats per minute to only about 5 beats. Their body temperature also drops to a staggering 60 degrees Fahrenheit below their normal temperature! This allows woodchucks to conserve a tremendous amount of energy until they emerge from their slumber.

Iowa Winter Wonder Birds

Bald eagles are starting to nest this month. Check along rivers where old trees stand and look for these eagle's massive nests. Below dams provide a perfect location to view bald eagles. Would you like more guidance on where to search for these birds? Join us on February 22nd at several different locations around Saylorville Lake and the Des Moines River for the Bald Eagle Watch. Stop by the Saylorville Visitors Center to learn about our national symbol. Then venture out to different areas around the lake to observe them in their natural setting. The Jester Park Lodge will be hosting a live eagle used for education. Hourly programs at 1, 2, and 3:00 p.m. will give you a close look at this amazing species.

This is also a great time to listen for owls. Great Horned Owls are nesting as well this month.  Any of our parks provide the opportunity to catch a glimpse of these creatures of the night. Best places to call and spot an owl in our parks include Jester Park, Yellow Banks Park, and Thomas Mitchell Park in the evening. 

Whether cozied up for a long winter's nap, adapting to the changing landscape, or hitting the proverbial road out of town, animals of all shapes and sizes find ways to make it through to the final spring thaw. We look forward to seeing you, our favorite local wildlife, in our parks and along our trails through every amazing season in Iowa!