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, February 13, 2014

Gitchie Manitou State Preserve: Mid-February 2014

 Gitchie Manitou State Preserve located on the east bank of the Big Sioux River just into Iowa and south of the Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum is really a wonderful all-season hiking area.  My wife (Marsha) and I joined one of our sons (Derek) and his dog (Cooper) this morning for a hike through the snow-covered trails and woods of Gitchie Manitou.
We entered today from the main entrance (see an earlier narrative at http://hikingsiouxfalls.blogspot.com/2012/08/gitchie-manitou-state-preserve-iowa.html) and found the parking area deserted and a snow covered trail leading into the preserve. The temperature was about 20 degrees, but there was a north wind that seemed to suck out any warmth from the body. 
Rather that continue along the main trail over an open and windswept landscape, we headed down toward the Big Sioux River through a thickly wooded lowland. That route took us out of the wind but also required us to move over very uneven terrain along a deer trail that wound through thickets of trees, some still in rough shape from the ice storm of last spring.
Taking photos along the walk required me to take off my gloves, fiddle with the camera and case, and then fall behind the others.  My hands became so chilled that it seemed to radiate through my body, and I found myself struggling to keep up.  
The snow was not deep enough to make snowshoes worthwhile, so we just moved on with regular shoes through a few inches of fresh snow laid over what remained from the recent past.
The frozen Big Sioux River was on our left as we moved through the trees.  I thought about the likelihood of the river running free in just a few more weeks.  Toward the end of next month, I would expect to see the river flowing with large chunks of ice along the shoreline.
After a mile or so, we emerged from the woods near the old quartzite building that occupies a central feature of the preserve and continued north to a trail entrance leading the quarry ponds.  These ponds are also one of the unique aspects of the area, much like a smaller scale of the quarry ponds at Arrowhead Park
To escape a piercing headwind as we began the return trip, we headed east to the fence line that forms the border of the preserve and followed that south to a junction with the main hiking trail. 
We followed the trail back to the parking area with the wind at our back and finished the walk at the spot from which we departed about an hour and a half earlier.
My son and wife reminded me that this type of hike along a broken surface and uneven terrain in cold, icy, and windy conditions is best for building fitness.  We did not see any wildlife on the hike this morning, but there were plenty of tracks from deer, rabbits, and other unknown creatures.  I do feel more righteous after such a walk, a much better feeling that I experience after a treadmill stroll in our basement. But, I am still chilled! 

For a look at all the photos taken on this hike, please check out my Flickr page at the following URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayheath/sets/72157640934754395/