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.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum/Perry Nature Area: Dec. 2012

The Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum combined with the Perry Nature Area is in the process of a major design and construction phase that will provide one of the premier park sites in Sioux Falls.  Minnehaha County has joined with the city to provide this combined park site that is now managed by the city. 
My wife and I have considered this one of our key hiking areas within the city, and we visit the site at least once a week most of the year.  The weather in Sioux Falls has been exceptionally mild so far this fall and hiking possibilities have been extended.  This afternoon, we drove out to the Arboretum – our third time in less than a week. The temperature was about 50 degrees, the sun was bright, and winds were negligible.
The major change taking place currently at the Arboretum is within the redesigned entry and parking area.  The Mabel and Judy Jasper Educational Center is in the final phase of construction and provides a focus for visitors to the site. Interpretive signage is in place around the structure offering an historical overview of East Sioux Falls.
Our hike began in the parking lot of the Center and headed east along the old railway bed leading toward the steel building housing the Fraternal Order of Police. 
From the road running between the FOP building and the Big Sioux River, a trail leads down onto the large field to the north.  A pathway runs along the perimeter of the field with the river visible through the bare trees. 
This field road or pathway leads around the field to the west.  An old bridge over the Big Sioux River is visible within the woods; the bridge is now privately owned and not accessible.  The park border extends to the shore along the river, but Iowa land is across the river and the bridge now belongs to a property owner.
There is a line of woods between the fields that are part of the arboretum/nature center and the river, and we hiked through these woods along the bed of a draw that probably runs with water during the spring or in wet years.  Now, it is dry and filled with fallen leaves within a grove of bare trees.
We made our way through the trees for a time and then exited the grove onto the second field/meadow on the western end of the site.  There was a pathway/field road along the edge of this field as well, and we continued along until we reached a creek flowing under the main gravel road that runs through the Perry Nature Area. 
There is a picnic shelter provided just off the road and adjacent to the creek running through the area.  We generally stop at this shelter for a break during our hikes.  This is generally where our elderly miniature poodle takes a few sips of water while we are seated at one of the picnic tables.
Our hike route then takes up south across the creek again and along a trail heading west through a lowland section.  This is a part of the park that is especially popular with area birders. 
The trail passes the remains of a home from many years ago.  This part of the hike passes through private property that is not a part of the park, but it is regularly used by hikers as they move through the woods and back up onto the old rail-bed pathway.
We moved east along the old elevated rail-bed pathway toward the entrance to the park.  This pathway runs parallel to Highway 42, with the highway on the right side and an overlook through the woods into the main part of the park on the left.
This section of the trail ends at the road leading into the park.  Turning left, one can continue along to the shelter at the top of the hill. 
Our hike this afternoon took about one and a-half hours.  It was really a great stroll through a varied landscape. 
This a wonderful time to hike the trails of the arboretum/nature area, a time before the snow covers it all for the next several months.  Even then, however, I like to use this setting for snowshoeing.  There is plenty of open space for snowshoeing in a variety of terrain.  My old rawhide and wood snowshoes from yesteryear are hanging in the garage ready for the first winter hike over snow covered fields, trails, and along the river.
For those interested in how my current observations compare to those made a year ago, please check out the narrative identified in the index of area hiking possibilities listed on the right side of the blog.

The complete set of photographs taken on the hike today can be seen on my Flickr page at the following URL:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayheath/sets/72157632170631469/