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, 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.

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