COLUMNS

Head for One of Our Natural Areas for Soul Settling After the Election

Steve Lekwa,

Readers of this column know that I’ve never needed much of an excuse to head outdoors. The weather of the past week and that forecast for the next one have given no excuses for staying indoors. The “indoor weather,” on the other hand, has increased the urge to be outdoors in recent weeks. It has been foul and getting worse whenever the radio or TV is on. The increasingly ugly and disgusting campaign ads have left me totally fed up with the hyper-extended (first-in-the-nation), outrageously over-funded and incredibly negative process. Think of the good that might have been accomplished if even half of the untold millions spent on the past year of campaigning had gone toward important projects and programs that remain unfunded or underfunded because “we can’t afford them.”

Sue and I escaped to the relative quiet of several of Story County’s beautiful outdoor areas in the past week for a walk (Jennett Wildlife Area), a canoe paddle (Skunk River Water Trail) and a bike ride (Heart of Iowa Nature Trail). Not a single campaign sign cluttered the views, nor did we receive any uninvited survey calls on the phone. We carried no radio. Instead, we basked in the soothing sounds and sights of nature around us.

The Jennett Wildlife Area is just a few miles south of Nevada on the east side of County S-14. It boasts two ponds and segments of two native streams, Grant Creek and West Indian Creek, that join just south of the area. It also has some degraded native prairie that will improve with future management, large acreages of reconstructed prairie on old fields, and some restored riparian wetlands. Wetland plants are just beginning to recover with the return of water and some of them bloomed again for the first time in years last summer. There’s also a nice stand of riparian woodland on the southeast corner of the tract. With such diversity of habitat, it’s little surprise that the area hosts many kinds of native birds and animals. There are no maintained trails, but there is a nearly half-mile long field road up to the pond in the northeast corner of the area.

We paddled a segment of the Skunk River that I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t seen (at least from a canoe) in many years. A huge log jam south of Anderson Access had made downstream travel in that section of the river difficult for a long time, but recent work with some heavy equipment and by nature itself, has blown open a clear channel through the mess. We paddled from Lekwa Access south of Story City to Peterson Park west of McFarland Park, a distance of five road miles, but about 9.8 river miles. There are many tight bends and narrow passages around log jams and fallen trees, so paddlers must remain constantly alert. We made the whole trip without getting out of the canoe, though, except for a stop at a bar for a snack and a drink. There are many attractive gravel and sand bars (my favorite kind!) along the way where one can stop to stretch the legs and look for shells and pretty stones. Numerous wood ducks, a red-tailed hawk, a barred owl and a kingfisher joined us for parts of the journey and a couple of deer jumped out of shoreline vegetation when we disturbed their afternoon naps. We saw no other people.

We pedaled from Maxwell to Cambridge and back on the Heart of Iowa Trail, a ride of nearly 16 miles. A couple of spots proved challenging for a bike due to accumulations of loose limestone chips left behind where last summer’s heavy storm flows washed away all the smaller particles that allowed the surface to remain compacted and smooth. Another spot was muddy and soft, but most of the trail was in great shape. Horseback riders and hikers wouldn’t even be slowed down by the damaged segments. I enjoyed hearing a rooster pheasant cackle as he flew off to our left near a CRP prairie area and the sound of dry leaves crunching under the tires. We met several other folks out on their bikes enjoying a gorgeous early November day.

There are more spots in Story County just as appealing and accessible as the ones we visited. Some are likely close enough to you that you could enjoy them with even a couple of free hours. I urge you to do so and to let your soul settle down. The election turmoil should be over for at least awhile.