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, December 14, 2011

The Outdoor Campus: an Oxbow of the Big Sioux River: Early Winter

Today was another day without snow in Sioux Falls, and I decided to visit the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls and take a walk along the well-tended trails in this little oasis of nature that is near the most congested part of the city.
The Outdoor Campus is located between 57th and 49th Streets adjacent to Sertoma Park and the Butterfly House. The Empire Mall is nearby as well as the heavy business activity along 41st Street. The campus is located along an oxbow of the Big Sioux River in a nature center featuring native grasses, a variety of trees, and lots of bird life.
A hike around the campus begins at the rear of the campus building, along a path through the butterfly garden that leads to a bridge over the oxbow. The oxbow is a swamp-like body of nearly motionless water, a closed segment of the Big Sioux River. Many birds frequent this oxbow near the bridge, including both perching birds and waterfowl. Lots of turtles can also be seen on warm sunny days.
Once over the bridge, the “Prairie” trail makes a loop along a field of magnificent native grasses. The trail abuts a levee of the Big Sioux River. The bike trail runs along the river on the opposite side. This segment of the trail system is just .6 miles and merges into the “Woodland” trail that leads out of the grassland and along a pathway through the woods.
Moving along the Woodland trail, the oxbow is off to the right through the trees, and a variety of wildlife might be observed along this walk. Today, I ran into two pair of Mallard ducks; I wondered if they had missed the memo advising them to head south for the next few months.
The Woodland trail leads along a path with apartment houses visible in the distance through the leafless trees. The sight of these apartments highlights the urban nature of this park setting.
The trail continues to border the oxbow as it moves around toward the entrance drive into the campus. There are many spots to move up to the shoreline of the oxbow to look more closely at the plant and bird life.
As the Woodland trail exits the woods after a course of a little over a mile, it moves along the roadway until reaching a pathway leading into the inner loop of the trail system. The “Riparian” trail leads along the edge of a second meadow of native grasses for about .7 of a mile.
The Riparian trail passes two shelters on its way to a pond within the campus, a pond used by campus staff to teach canoeing, kayaking, and fishing skills.
Past the pond, the trail returns to the butterfly garden and the rear entrance to the campus building.
A hike around the trails of the campus is about two miles and takes forty-five minutes. There is great variety in the landscape and in the birdlife that lives or passes through this nature area. My wife and I have taken advantage of bird watching classes that are held on the grounds of the campus and along the trails. In addition, a good number of classes are presented both in the building and along the trails in a number of nature-oriented interest areas. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing classes are offered, and equipment is available on loan. Perhaps my next visit to the Outdoor Campus will be with my snowshoes.
The outdoor campus is a joint effort of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks and the Parks Department of the city of Sioux Falls. The Outdoor Campus is a great place for a solitary and contemplative walk, a brisk run, a bird watching stroll, or a site to reconnect with nature here in the city. There are lots of activities that are particularly suited to the interests of children and nature lovers. My wife and I and our sons love the Outdoor Campus; we consider it another of the “jewels” of Sioux Falls.

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