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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Arrowhead Park - Late Fall

Arrowhead Park is located on the far east side of Sioux Falls near where East 10th Street and East 26th Street join together at Highway 42 on the road towards the Iowa border. This 131 acre park was once part of a quarrying operation linked to the old community of East Sioux Falls and features two large quarry ponds that are now home to a thriving year-long community of waterfowl. The area was donated to the city of Sioux Falls by Dale Weir to serve as a nature center for area residents and has been developed into a park by the city over the past several years.
One of the quarry ponds is located at the entrance to the park and is a popular spot to feed or watch waterfowl. The overwhelming numbers of waterfowl are Canada geese, and there are sometimes many hundreds of them crowding the beach along the ponds, the water surface, the sidewalks, and even the parking lot.
It is enjoyable to sit alongside the ponds and watch the geese fly in formation over the park and land on the surface. There are also snow geese, ducks and a few swans among the dominant groups of Canada geese.
The ponds seem to be the spots most popular with families and photographers. It is common on weekends and holidays to see families gathered along the shore checking out the geese; the geese also seem used to checking out the people as well, looking for handouts, no doubt. Photographers, some with long telephoto lenses, are frequently seen moving about the shoreline and up on the cliff walls searching for great shots. Local artists are sometimes seen here doing watercolor “plein air” paintings of the landscape and waterfowl.
The trails are mostly hard-surfaced and begin at the first quarry pond, circle up to the second pond, and then on to the restored Wallace Dow designed 1888 barn. A picnic area has been provided between the second pond and the barn. A restroom has been constructed near the barn, but it is only open during the summer months. Otherwise, a set of portable toilets is located near the first quarry pond.
A longer section of the trail then continues south past the barn and around the perimeter of the park. The landscape along this “back section” of the park increases in elevation and offers a great view of the Sioux River valley as the river moves down from Brandon on its way south.
The hard-surfaced trail forms the main walking route for the nearly two miles of the loop around the park. There are several benches provided along the circuit for people to pause and enjoy the landscape and the abundant bird life.
Hiking can be extended by taking an unimproved trail down the slope on the eastern side at either of two points. The first is a trail that leads east down the slope from the southern end of the park, moves along the eastern boundary, intersecting with another trail that leads back up onto the main elevation of the park. More typically, though, one can simply continue on the hard surface trail along the eastern side of the park until reaching a sign indicating an unimproved trail down the slope through a wooded area along the quartzite cliffs and then back up a set of steps to the main trail. This side trip is indicated at .28 miles and adds another 15 minutes to the stroll.
Arrowhead Park is a great place for a contemplative hike for about 30 minutes through a varied landscape and set of sights, including the waterfowl, the quartzite quarry ponds, native grasses, different species of trees and bushes, and a sweeping view out along the Sioux River valley. An extended hike that would include moving off the hard surfaced path onto the unimproved trails can add 15 to 30 minutes to the hike.
The Mary Jo Wenger Arboretum and East Sioux Falls Historical Site are across Highway 42 and increase the total space dedicated to nature. The long-term plan for the area calls for a tunnel under the highway for pedestrian traffic between the parks.
After moving away from the first quarry pond, there are few people encountered along the trail. I usually go out to the park on a weekday morning, and I seldom see other anyone. This is one of my favorite spots for just walking along looking over the landscape and the sky. The park presents a very different picture through the cycle of seasons that we experience here on the northern plains. No dogs are permitted in Arrowhead Park, and that can limit the area for some people.