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, August 16, 2012

Gitchie Manitou State Preserve (Iowa)

South Entrance - the best place to enter the preserve

Gitchie Manitou State Preserve is located just to the east of Sioux Falls, across the Big Sioux River.  To reach this 91-acre preserve, my preferred route is to drive east out of Sioux Falls along 26th Street and join Highway 42 just past Arrowhead Park.  Just after crossing the bridge over the Big Sioux River, take the first paved road to the right (115) and continue south.  This road becomes 481st Avenue and continues to a sharp left, where the road becomes 268th Street.  At that sharp turn, there is a limited space to park a car, and the north entrance to the preserve leads off into the wooded area as a foot-path. 
Parking Lot for the South Entrance

A better way to enter the preserve is to continue on the paved road (268th Street) around the curve where it becomes Adams Avenue and continues south.  Just a mile or little more, the north entrance to the preserve is clearly marked on the right side of the road.  There is a parking lot, a large sign, and a clearly indicated pathway into the preserve. Past the entrance to the preserve, the road continues on to the village of Granite and then leads on to the Grandview Road back over the Big Sioux River to the highway past Blood Run and back into Sioux Falls.  I have searched for the main entrance to Gitchie Manitou on previous occasions and had difficulty locating it.  If you follow the directions above, it should be fairly easy.  The total distance from our home near Sycamore and 26th Street is about six miles or so and takes less than 15 minutes.

Entering from the south entrance, the trail leads along a relatively open prairie area with the woodlands off to the left.  The trail follows the course of the Big Sioux River; at times it runs along the bank and other times it is separated by a swath of heavy woodland growth.

The first section of the trail, perhaps a mile or so in length, is through this open area.  The next section passes through a canopy of trees that extends for most of the remaining distance of the trail.  Again, the east bank of the Big Sioux River is off to the left.  As the hiker moves closer to the tree cover, there are trails that also lead off to the right (east) through Sioux quartzite outcroppings.

One pathway leads back into the woods to a large ruined quartzite stone structure.  The structure is intact and includes a large fireplace.  It seems as though it must have served as some sort of lodge in the distant past.

Beyond the turn-off to the structure, there is another pathway that leads off to the right to a water-filled quarry that looks like a smaller version of the quarry lagoons at Arrowhead Park.  It seems obvious that this was a quartzite mining quarry long ago that filled with water from rain and melting snow.  It is easy to follow a pathway up to the rim of the quarry.

Of course, if you enter at the north end, the directions would be reversed, but I advise driving on the extra couple of miles to the south gate.

The trail through Gitchie Manitou is level and an easy hike.  There is lots of bird life, especially in the trees that extend back to the river bank.

There are occasional excellent views of the Big Sioux River as it makes its way south along the border between South Dakota and Iowa. 

Gitchie Manitou is in close proximity to Blood Run and shares a long history of use by Native American people. The landscape includes native prairie grasses, Sioux quartzite rock formations, the Big Sioux River, woodlands, and a great variety of plant life.  We also saw many species of birds flitting in the trees of the woodlands and soaring in the skies above.

We spent about two hours doing a leisurely hike through the preserve, beginning at the rougher north end, exploring the quarry lagoons and the quartzite structure, and walking to the south entrance before returning to our starting point. Our little seven-pound, 14 year old miniature poodle kept up with us just fine.  We felt that perhaps we had neglected this hiking option so close to Sioux Falls and plan on returning a couple more times this fall.  It is a public hunting area, though, so I would be careful during pheasant season!

We did not see anyone else in the preserve during our two hours.  This is really a prime hiking site within our area!
The North Entrance - the less preferred entrance

There is a darker side to Gitchie Manitou.  In November of 1973, this was the site of a mass murder, one of the worst in Iowa history.  Five teenagers from Sioux Falls were camping in the preserve and were attacked by three brothers, strangers to the victims, also from South Dakota.  Four of the teenagers were murdered and the fourth assaulted.  The three brothers were all convicted and sentenced to life in an Iowa prison without possibility of parole.   

For those interested in viewing the complete set of photos from this hike, please access my Flickr account at the following URL:http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayheath/sets/72157631100013776/detail/

Monday, August 6, 2012

Blood Run Nature Area

The Blood Run Nature Area is expected to become the first new state park in South Dakota in several decades and has just been opened for hiking with about 2.5 miles of trails provided. Blood Run straddles the Big Sioux River, and there is a portion of the site being developed by the State of South Dakota and another portion on the other side of the river being developed by the State of Iowa.  The site has great historical significance as a major trading center for Native Americans and was populated for about 8,500 years.  I went on a tour of the Iowa side of the site a few years ago as a participant in the South Dakota Archeological Society Annual Conference.   Today was my first time on the South Dakota side of the site.

Blood Run is only about five miles east and south of Sioux Falls.  One way to reach the site is to go south on SD Highway 11 out of Sioux Falls toward Lake Alvin. Turning east on 269th Street, will take you to 480th Avenue, the paved highway that goes past Lake Alvin.  As you continue south on 480th Avenue, you should look for a sign on the east side of the road indicating Lincoln Lakes, Springdale Cemetery, and Blood Run.  Blood Run is only a mile east of 480th and is clearly marked. 

We drove into the Nature Area parking lot that is set up with picnic tables and a vault toilet.  There are signs indicating the route to take for a hike; we went first down to the South Lookout Point, then on to a great view over the Big Sioux River, and then back north along a trail that winds through woodlands and open areas.

As the hiker examines the posted maps within the park, it would be best to first clearly establish a notion of direction – particularly north and east. With that orientation in mind, the posted maps are easily understood.  Current location for the reader (“you are here’) is noted on each of the several posted maps throughout the park.

The trail is essentially a set of south and north loops.  We proceeded first along the southern loop.  The path initially seems like a farm equipment road, especially as it runs along a cultivated field of soybeans.  I had some doubt as to direction at first, but we continued along and it all became quite clear.  Again, reading the map with a clear directional orientation makes it all easier.

The trails vary and include the farm-type dirt track, mowed tracks that move across the landscape, and foot trails through heavily wooded sections.  The trail passes through some hilly sections that offer a good workout for the hiker. We found that having hiking staffs along helped a good deal; they at least help provide more sure footing and spread the strain into three parts!

There are four wooden benches scattered along the 2.5 miles of trails, spots to gaze out over the landscape and appreciate the variety of terrain and flora.

A very dramatic view over the Big Sioux River is offered within the midpoint of the loop.  A pathway leads from one of the benches down into what is called the Big Sioux River Lookout.  This spot is on the western side of the river, of course, and is high on a 100 foot cliff that forms a cut-bank of the river.  A wooden railing provides some distance from the cliff edge, but it would pay to be quite attentive along this pathway.  A fall could be a very unpleasant experience. 

The sight from this observation point is spectacular.  I have passed below this area in a kayak several times and gazed up at the high cliffs.  Going on the Blood Run hiking trail offers a quite different perspective.

My wife, Marsha, finds a great parallel between Blood Run and Newton Hills.  In both cases, there is heavy forest cover, there are draws between the hills to provide water run-off, and the landscape is hilly with lots of up and down hiking.

We came across one deer and there was lots of bird life.  Large oak trees are abundant throughout the forest.

Along the trail, there is a grave site with a marker commemorating the birth of the first white child in 
Lincoln County in 1871.

This was one of the best hikes that we have experienced in the area.  Blood Run is only now being further developed, and I expect that it will continue to grow in popularity.  Only five miles from the eastern edge of Sioux Falls, this is an easy place to take a stroll through an interesting landscape and experience the solitude of a woodland walk.  On a Monday morning, we were the only hikers in the park.  We walked slowly and stopped often to admire elements of the park.  We took our time going up the hills.  Our hike this morning took us about two hours – two great hours of strolling through the woods with our small dog, Finnegan.  

Those interested in the complete set of photographs taken on this hike through Blood Run can access them on my Flickr account at the following URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayheath/sets/72157630936008856/