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.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Good Earth State Park at Blood Run: July 2013

We haven’t been out to Good Earth State Park at Blood Run this season, and we wanted to see the effect so far of its designation as the newest South Dakota state park.  The official dedication of the park was last week, and the news coverage was very optimistic about a future that would also include the Iowa portion of the site just across the river.  At this point, the South Dakota site includes about 600 acres.  Much of the archeological remains of the Indian tribes that lived in the area are located on the Iowa side.
Good Earth seems about as it was last year when we roamed throughout its trails.  The entry area has a few more picnic tables, the vault toilets have been relocated across the road, and the signs have changed to reflect the new designation and name change. The area through which the trail enters the park was a cornfield last year. The corn was not replanted, apparently, and that land is now grassland.
There were three other parties hiking through the area as we arrived; in terms of our experiences along area nature area hiking trails on a weekday morning, that was a crowd!  A group hike to Great Bear has become a popular activity.  The park is only a few miles southeast of Sioux Falls.  We can reach the park in less than 15 minutes from our eastside Sioux Falls home.
We left home under cloudy skies with a temperature in the high 70s; in the 15 minutes it took us to arrive at the park, the clouds has dissipated, the sky was sunny, and the temperature had climbed into the 80s.
The trail leading into the park moved through open grassland for the first half-mile or so.  It was too hot for our little seven-pound miniature poodle now into his sixteenth year and dealing with deafness, cataracts, and congestive heart failure.  I had to carry him through the grassland trail until we entered the shade of the forest.  Once in the shade, though, he was fine.
As we moved along and into the woods, our first stop was the vista looking over the Big Sioux River.  This is a magnificent view, and I look forward to standing at that spot, looking up and down the river from the top of a high cut-bank.  I thought of how many times I have passed by this site looking up from the cockpit of my kayak on a cruise from the Big Sioux Recreation Area at the edge of Brandon to the Grandview Bridge, across from Lake Alvin.
There are about two miles of hiking trails through Good Earth.  About half of the hike can be in the sun and the other half in deep or dappled shade.  The trails wind up and down hills and the slopes are pretty gentle. 
The view out over the river from the heights of the bluff and a short trail in the northern part of the park that leads down to the river shore are favorite spots of mine. The forests, of course, are the highlight of the park, and it is reflective to look into the depths of thickly wooded forests with some trees estimated at 200 years old.  Much of this landscape is largely unchanged over that time.
An old barn marks the conclusion of the trail if moving in a counterclockwise direction.  There are picnic tables, a water fountain, and vault toilets just off the parking lot.
There have been a series of guided nature hikes held in the park this summer, and these will continue through August.  Joining one of these hikes requires registration through the Outdoor Campus at http://www.outdoorcampus.org, and then selection for the Sioux Falls campus.  My wife and I took a guided hike through the park last year, and we learned a great deal about the geology, natural history of the area, and identification of various plant life.
The narrative and photos of a walk through the park last fall can be found on the area hiking possibilities listed on the right side of the blog.
A full set of photographs of this hike can be accessed at my Flickr account: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayheath/sets/72157634749447833/

Friday, July 19, 2013

Great Bear: Hiking in the Deep Shade on a Summer Day

During these sweltering days of mid-July, hiking for us is best early in the day in areas that provide deep shade.  This is especially important for Finnegan, our elderly canine hiking companion with heart failure. 
Great Bear Recreation Park on the outskirts of Sioux Falls is probably the best place in the area for an extended walk in the deep shade of large leafy trees.
There are several hiking trails within Great Bear, ranging from steep climbs up to sunny open meadows to lowland trails that are mostly in full or dappled shade.  At this time of year, we generally choose the lowland and shady trails that wind back into the park along well- developed pathways.   
Passing the lodge, the first feature encountered is a large pond that separates the pathways into the wooded area.  The pond at this time of year is often covered in part with green algae.  To me, the full or scattered algae growth has its own special charm in this body of still water with no outlet.
Over the years, I have seen ducks, geese, lots of turtles, as well as tadpoles and frogs in the pond.  I like to pause along the shoreline of the pond to look over the animal and plant life that lives there.
On the trip today, Finnegan and I kept to the lower trails.  My wife and I have a hiking pattern in which we cut along the right side of the pond on a rougher trail, continue down to a fork where the trails pass along either side of a wooded and steep hill and turn right again.
We return along a rougher pathway to the fork and then turn right again, heading deeper into the woods.  This trail continues to a roofed bench that has become the watering hole for Finnegan.
 A walk through the lower trails takes about 45 minutes at our slow pace.  Today, we did not encounter anyone in the park or along the trail.
The temperature had increased to about 80 degrees and the skies were clear as we finished our walk.  Great Bear is less than fifteen minutes from our home on the east side of the city, so we got in a nice stroll through a beautiful nature area before the full strength of the sun brought us to a stupor.
For additional narratives and photos of Great Bear at various seasons, go to the menu of area hiking possibilities on the right side of the blog.   
Additional photos of our hike today can be found on my Flickr account at the following URL:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Beaver Creek: Summer 2013

For the first time this summer, we went out for a hike at the Beaver Creek Nature Center, located about midway between Rowena and Brandon, or about 10 miles northeast of our eastside Sioux Falls home.  We have been hiking in this area for over 30 years, and it is one of our favorite spots for a nice walk in the woods.
 While Beaver Creek Nature Center is a state-owned property, a park entrance sticker is not required.  The nature center is centered along Beaver Creek and includes a varied landscape of heavily wooded forest, the creek itself as it flows along, open upland meadows, a lowland flood plain, and trails that wind through the hills and over several bridges.
Much of our hiking this summer has been build around the needs of our seven-pound miniature poodle, Finnegan.  He is over 15 years old now and has struggled with congestive heart failure for the past few years.  In the summer, he can’t take the heat and intense sunlight anymore.  Even though he can walk two or three miles, we try to structure his walks with us so that we can avoid the heat of the summer day and walk in the shade.
 So, Beaver Creek in the morning is a very good choice for us, and for Finnegan.  The area is largely dappled shade with long sections of the trail in deep shadow. While there are also areas of direct sunlight, those sections of the trail pass quickly. This variety of sunlight conditions and the dirt trails are just right for all of us.
As usual, we started out at the parking lot on the left side of the lower section of the park. From the parking lot, we proceeded to the old swayback wooden bridge over Beaver Creek and turned right along the main trail heading downstream and into the woods paralleling the creek.
This section of the trail is mostly shade, some dappled and some deep shadow.  The trail continues along the creek and increases in elevation along a path reinforced in places with inset steps.
 As the path rises, it eventually reaches a ridgeline overlooking the lower park, and a hiker can backtrack above the creek to walk in an upland meadow with a view through the trees of the parking lot area. 
We generally walk along this path for 100 yards or so and then return along the main trail as it follows a slope above the forest leading through the upland meadows. 
After a couple hundred yards, the trail then moves down the slope to a swinging wooden bridge over a ravine that extends on the left side of the pathway.

Again, allowing for a quite varied landscape, the trail moves along through another upland meadow and then reenters the forest, emerging at a set of wooden steps leading down the hill to the lowland flood plain. 
Looking down from the top of the wooden steps into the dense lowland growth is one of our favorite views in the nature center. There is a primeval sense of jungle growth when viewed from above that stirs the imagination. 
 Moving down from above, we followed the trail back to Beaver Creek and along it back through another of the meadows to yet another bridge over the creek.
On the other side of the creek once again, we turned left and followed the path alongside a field of corn toward the cabin.
The Samuelson cabin is the centerpiece of the nature center.  The cabin was constructed in 1873 on an early homestead and serves as a living history memorial to the lives of early settlers.  For several decades now, there has been an annual “Homesteaders Day” celebrated in September, and my family has been attending these for more than 30 years.
After taking a “water break for Finnegan” rest, we retraced our way back along the trail through the woods to the parking lot where we began.
 Our hike today took us about an hour and a-half, with plenty of pauses for photography and a time spend at one of the picnic tables at the shelter by the cabin.
On our way back, a mink ran across the path and into the brush.  Our dog Finnegan was captivated by the smells, and we had a difficult time encouraging him to follow us rather than dash into the woods.  Of course, it would be too bad for Finnegan if he should tangle with a mink!
As is usually the case, the nature center was deserted this Thursday morning, and it remained so during the time of our visit. 
To check out Beaver Creek Nature Center during other seasons of the year, you can access the inventory of area hiking sites on the right side of the blog.  Click on Beaver Creek, and you will see earlier narratives and sets of photographs taken during other seasons.