Exploring the Parks and Nature Areas Around Sioux Falls

Sioux Falls has 76 named parks throughout the city that range from small sites suitable for neighborhood gatherings and playgrounds to large well developed nature centers such as Great Bear Recreational Park, Arrowhead Park, the Wegner Arboretum and East Sioux Falls Historical Site, and the linked park system along the Big Sioux River. The state provides outdoor recreation areas and state parks including the Big Sioux Recreation Area, Beaver Creek Nature Area, Lake Alvin Recreation Area, Newton Hills State Park, and the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls that is a joint city/state operation.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Gitchie Manitou State Preserve: Mid-February 2014

 Gitchie Manitou State Preserve located on the east bank of the Big Sioux River just into Iowa and south of the Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum is really a wonderful all-season hiking area.  My wife (Marsha) and I joined one of our sons (Derek) and his dog (Cooper) this morning for a hike through the snow-covered trails and woods of Gitchie Manitou.
We entered today from the main entrance (see an earlier narrative at http://hikingsiouxfalls.blogspot.com/2012/08/gitchie-manitou-state-preserve-iowa.html) and found the parking area deserted and a snow covered trail leading into the preserve. The temperature was about 20 degrees, but there was a north wind that seemed to suck out any warmth from the body. 
Rather that continue along the main trail over an open and windswept landscape, we headed down toward the Big Sioux River through a thickly wooded lowland. That route took us out of the wind but also required us to move over very uneven terrain along a deer trail that wound through thickets of trees, some still in rough shape from the ice storm of last spring.
Taking photos along the walk required me to take off my gloves, fiddle with the camera and case, and then fall behind the others.  My hands became so chilled that it seemed to radiate through my body, and I found myself struggling to keep up.  
The snow was not deep enough to make snowshoes worthwhile, so we just moved on with regular shoes through a few inches of fresh snow laid over what remained from the recent past.
The frozen Big Sioux River was on our left as we moved through the trees.  I thought about the likelihood of the river running free in just a few more weeks.  Toward the end of next month, I would expect to see the river flowing with large chunks of ice along the shoreline.
After a mile or so, we emerged from the woods near the old quartzite building that occupies a central feature of the preserve and continued north to a trail entrance leading the quarry ponds.  These ponds are also one of the unique aspects of the area, much like a smaller scale of the quarry ponds at Arrowhead Park
To escape a piercing headwind as we began the return trip, we headed east to the fence line that forms the border of the preserve and followed that south to a junction with the main hiking trail. 
We followed the trail back to the parking area with the wind at our back and finished the walk at the spot from which we departed about an hour and a half earlier.
My son and wife reminded me that this type of hike along a broken surface and uneven terrain in cold, icy, and windy conditions is best for building fitness.  We did not see any wildlife on the hike this morning, but there were plenty of tracks from deer, rabbits, and other unknown creatures.  I do feel more righteous after such a walk, a much better feeling that I experience after a treadmill stroll in our basement. But, I am still chilled! 

For a look at all the photos taken on this hike, please check out my Flickr page at the following URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayheath/sets/72157640934754395/

Friday, January 3, 2014

New Snowshoes: Perry Nature Center/Arboretum

Santa brought me a contemporary set of snowshoes, so I set aside my wooden and rawhide pair and headed out today to give the new ones a try.  Contemporary aluminum tubing and some kind of durable material that seems something similar to leather snowshoes have their advantages, but they lack the Sgt. Preston look of my traditional ones.   
The harness is much easier to step into with only a strap that quickly cinches the shoe tight.  The bottom of each snowshoe has two claws that provide traction and make climbing up hills and grades very much easier.   Moving into the woods is not an issue with these snowshoes; with my wooden and rawhide snowshoes, I was concerned about snapping a strip or the frame of the shoe itself.
I don’t know that the modern “high tech” snowshoes are as good on deep snow.  They don’t have quite the surface area of my old traditional snowshoes, but I did not experience any difficulty today.
Today, I took a slightly different path at the Perry Nature Center/Arboretum.  I parked in front of the Jasper Educational Center and then walked down the hill to the large meadow that spreads north of the building and continued out to the tree line that borders the Big Sioux River.
There have been several light snowfalls recently, and most tracks from others venturing out into the cold have been covered.  Today was the single “warm” day forecast for the week, and the temperature was about 20 degrees under sunny skies with a stiff wind out of the south.  I felt compelled to get out this afternoon.
There were few traces of others walking in this area.  I walked along the tree line looking into the woods for any sign of wildlife, but I didn’t see anything, not even a single bird.  There were a few tracks of rabbits and deer, and some faint traces of a cross-country skier, but generally mine were the only evidence of passage through the snow.
I trudged along in the snow, congratulating myself on getting out of the recliner to experience an hour and a half outside in the sun.  Snowshoeing is strenuous; it is not a stroll in the sunshine.  Sometimes I tend to walk further than I might have planned, only to realize that I have to walk back as well.
Snowshoeing along the tree line of the river offers something different each time.  The winter landscape is constantly changing with new snow and winds.  As the snow gets deeper and stays longer, drifts are sculpted on the meadows and the woodland takes varying looks.  The winter sun and the white snow create interesting shadowing, and all this changes daily.  So, I think that a person can visit the same few places and get enough variety over these next three months to sustain interest.

The complete set of photos can be found at the following Flickr page:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayheath/sets/72157639362307556/

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Snowshoeing at the Perry Nature Area

We have had a relatively early start to winter here in the Sioux Falls area.  It has been quite cold and snowy here the past two or three weeks, and it seems likely that the snow cover over my favorite hiking areas will only increase over the next three months. 
Today seemed like a good day to get my snowshoes out and take a hike at the Perry Nature Area/Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum.  This has been one of our favorite hiking areas over the years; it is also where I have tended use my snowshoes whenever I felt the urge to walk about the landscape and observe winter conditions.
Many years ago, when I got my bent-wood, rawhide, Sergeant Preston-type snowshoes, I felt like an outdoorsman, an adventurer walking along snow-covered terrain in my isolation.  Today, these snowshoes seem quaint to younger people.  The aluminum, modern snowshoes with easy to attach straps are so much handier to use and have popularized snowshoeing.
Much more effort is required in snowshoeing than just strolling along on paths through the woods.  At this time of year, such a workout helps reduce the “winter weight” that seems to stretch out our waistline.  It also offers a good alternative to “going to the gym” and working out on machines.  Going to the gym is, to me, always the last option, one that I have avoided the past few years in favor of hiking, kayaking, biking, and now snowshoeing.
On my stroll this morning, I ran across a couple of guys on cross-country skies and another couple of guys with four big dogs romping in the snow.  For the most part, however, snowshoeing can be a solitary activity that offers an opportunity to look at the tracks of wildlife, observe the way snow covers the landscape, and check out the trees, bushes, and tall grass as they settle in for the winter months.
Perry Nature Area and the Arboretum are just on the east edge of Sioux Falls and provide a great location for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.  I walked along in the path of others who had recently taken the same route along the margin between the grasslands and the wooded area on the edge of the Big Sioux River.
I will continue using my snowshoes over the course of the winter.  The Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls offers lessons and snowshoes for those interested in trying out this aspect of winter hiking.