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.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Atkins Slough WPA - Sept. 2013

Atkins Slough WPA (Wildlife Production Area) was recently described in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader as a good spot for bird watching.  This was a new site for me, and I decided to check it out today.
Atkins Slough is on the west side of Tea, just behind and across a gravel road from Tea High School and a few miles southwest of Sioux Falls.
A parking area is provided at the entrance to the WPA, and the nature trail leads west toward and around Atkins Slough.
The trail is only about a mile roundtrip over a wetlands area and offers the chance for good bird watching as well as a close look at the varied trees, bushes, and grasses that make up a wetland environment.
The trails were obviously well designed, although seemingly little used.  There are long stretches of nicely graveled trails alternating with overgrown sections.  Sometimes the grasses and other plants are growing across the trail, although it is not difficult to follow.
Two wooden bridges provide elevated passage over especially low portions of the trail. 
A major effort has been made to include good interpretation through signage along the route. 
The slough itself forms the centerpiece of the area; the trail leads through the grasses and tree cover to the shore of the slough.  Several benches are provided along the trail where a person might sit quietly and observe the bird life of the area.
On my walk through the WPA today, I was conscious of the changing seasons evident now in the last half of September.  Some of the trees and other plants are changing colors, mostly to a yellow tone.
A trail of only a mile in length might not seem as much a hike as a stroll through nature.  Perhaps going to Atkins is more of a nature walk than an actual hike.  My walk this morning took me about 40 minutes, including time to stop and appreciate the moment and take some photos. Probably bird watching would be a good reason to stroll this trail in search of wetlands birds, critters, and flora.
Signage cautions hikers that this is also a public hunting area and caution should be exercised during hunting season.  During my time in the WPA, I was alone with no sign of anyone else in the area.
I recommend taking this walk through the Atkins Slough wetlands.  If hiking were to be the objective, it might be best to do Atkins and another site on the same occasion.  A good deal of care was used to create this hiking possibility – signage, groomed trails, bridges and an elevated walkway, and a parking area.
The directions offered in the newspaper were to go south on Interstate 29 to the Tea Exit (Exit 73), turn right onto 271st Street for 2.5 miles, and then turn left onto 468th Avenue for .5 miles to a gravel parking lot on the right side of the road.
I followed those directions and found that some amplification is needed.  First, 271st Street is not named until passing through the northern part of Tea; the 2.5 miles is fine, but don’t be concerned with not seeing that designation for a while.  Then, I found no signage for 468th Avenue and drove a couple more miles west until turning around to backtrack.  My recommendation at this point is to drive the 2.5 miles west on 271st Street to the intersection where the pavement stops and then turn left on the unnamed gravel road for half a mile.  The parking area for the nature trail is on the right (west) side of the road.  The back of Tea High School is on the east side of that road, and the parking area for the Wildlife Production Area and the nature trail is just to the west, within sight of the school.  There are several signs identifying the nature trail just off of the parking area.
A complete set of my photographs of Atkins Slough can be found on my Flickr account at the following URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayheath/sets/72157635697988504/

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