Thursday, September 25, 2014

Take a Hike!

It is that time of year again! That much-celebrated time in the Midwest when the dog-days of summer give way to warm days and cool, brisk nights; that time when the many oak, hickory, maple and elm trees that dominate the Iowa landscape ignite in a blaze of color against a backdrop of deep blue autumnal skies. This quiet yet vibrant transitional period of the land from summer into winter is a markedly beautiful one throughout Iowa. What better way to enjoy it than to get outside and hit the trails?!

Polk County Conservation, with its 20 parks and trails, provides an ideal setting in which one may enjoy all that nature has to offer this fall season. Peak color in Polk County typically occurs the first through third weeks in October. Want to know fall color conditions in your area? Visit the Iowa DNR website for weekly updates.
Trees are not the only spectacular view this season. Be sure to take in the glory of a prairie’s fall bloom! The dominant yellows of goldenrods, sunflowers, sweet brown-eyed Susan, and multiple species of bidens scatter the land. Adding interest and texture to the rich browns and yellows are the purples of New England asters, gentians and ironweed. Beautiful wild rose hips and the seed capsules of Indian plantain, beardtongue and others all draw the attention of the fall hiker.The constant hum of insects, which make up the vast majority of Iowa wildlife species, is particularly obvious as they prepare for the end of the yearly cycle. Areas where prairies still flourish in Polk County are along old railway corridors, roadsides, and within the hands of passionate individuals and organizations dedicated to restoration of these areas.

Polk County Conservation offers mile after mile of scenic views to enjoy autumn at its finest. Our top four recommended parks to visit this fall are Brown's Woods, Yellow Banks, Thomas Mitchell and Jester Parks. Lace up your boots, pack a water bottle and check out our website for a complete listing of trails. Share your pictures and experiences on our Facebook page or comment below. We look forward to seeing you in our parks!

Brown's Woods (Located just west of 63rd Street in West Des Moines)
The giant oak trees shading this trail system creates a solid canopy of leaves penetrated by dancing rays of sunlight.
Hiking Difficulty: moderate

Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt (Located northeast of Des Moines, 5 miles east of Elkhart)
Tranquil trails wind along the old oxbows of the Skunk River. Keep an eye out for great blue herons, wood ducks, and river otters.
Hiking Difficulty: easy

Easter Lake Park (Located east of SE 14th Street on Easter Lake Drive in Des Moines)
Catch a glimpse of beautiful Easter Lake as you walk along the new Mark C. Ackelson Trail.
Hiking Difficulty: easy - moderate

Fort Des Moines Park (Located on SE 5th Street, south of Army Post Road in Des Moines)
The Aspen Ridge Trail winds through a tapestry of sunlight, shadows, and greenery. Listen for chattering chipmunks, scolding blue jays, and whispering wind.
Hiking Difficulty: easy

Jester Park (Located 15 miles northwest of Des Moines near Granger)
You'll enjoy spectacular views of Saylorville Lake and a wide variety of wildlife on many peaceful trails as you hike through beautiful oak/hickory woodland.
Hiking Difficulty: easy - moderate

Thomas Mitchell Park (Located on NE 46 St. east of Altoona)
The DeVotie Trail is part of the old stagecoach trail that stopped at Thomas Mitchell's cabin. Thomas Mitchell was the first permanent Anglo-American settler in Polk County.
Hiking Difficulty: easy - moderate

Yellow Banks Park (Located 10 miles southeast of Des Moines, south of Hwy. 163)
On the Savanna Trail, you can introduce yourself to some of our oldest residents. This trail guides you past Polk County's few remaining 250 year old savanna oak trees.
Hiking Difficulty: easy - moderate

Hikers on the Hickory Ridge Trail at Jester Park

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Find Your Wild Place. Breathe It In.

What is your wild place? Where do you go to re-energize and unplug from the daily grind? September 2014 marks 50 years since the signing of the Wilderness Act into law which set aside an initial 9.1 million acres of wildlands. Today, nearly 110 million acres in over 750 wilderness areas throughout the United States fall under the protection of this Act.

Iowa's wilderness once consisted of vast prairies that covered 30 million acres. It is said that Iowa is the most altered state in the nation as this prairie landscape has been reduced to less than one-tenth of one percent. Iowa is also one of six states without designated wilderness areas. But we can still find a natural setting in which one can relax, unwind and find adventure in a wild place.

Join Polk County Conservation on September 2nd from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at the Jester Park Lodge to celebrate all things wild and protected under the Wilderness Act. Chris Adkins, a Naturalist for Dallas County Conservation, will start the conversation on wilderness. We will explore questions ranging from what designates an area as "wilderness" and where we might find that in Iowa. What is the value of these special places to the citizens of Iowa? What the future holds for these wild spaces will be discussed as well as our role in its preservation. Special guest presenter Dallas Chief Eagle, champion hoop dancer, will also demonstrate traditional Lakota hoop dance as he engages the audience via dance and story to view our position in nature and our relationship to nature.  

"If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it."
- President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964



Friday, July 25, 2014

Eating Al Fresco is a Picnic

One of my fondest memories as a child is having picnics with my sister and father underneath the same tree on hot summer afternoons. They were nothing fancy – cold meat sandwiches and a bag of chips. We didn’t have a basket or even the classic red and white checked blanket to sit on. But I still remember them. I remember the grass tickling my legs, what a treat that cold sugary drink was to wash down my meal, and how special this small gathering made me feel. I don’t know how a picnic can make a person feel that way. It took so little planning and preparation – but it was different. It was outdoors. It was special.

 From my dad’s perspective, there were fewer crumbs on the floor and the walk home to burn off stored up lunchtime energy. From mine and my sister’s, it was a different setting; instead of being surrounded by white walls and brown linoleum floors, there were blue skies and trees. I now know how important it is for children and adults to make contact with nature but at the time it was just lunch with Dad.

 Polk County Conservation’s Family of Parks has a variety of picnic settings to choose from. Make someone you know feel special; or treat yourself! Grab a sandwich and a friend and get outside! Picnic basket optional.
Alexis Johnson is a local naturalist who grew up in Jasper County about 30 minutes southeast of Des Moines.
Her family’s picnic tree still stands on the grounds of Monroe Elementary School.