2019 was an exciting year for Golden Hills RC&D, with several new projects and programs. Check out our annual report below, or click the image to download a pdf version.
As we kick off the new year (& new decade), you may be thinking about a New Year's Resolution or finding new things to do in western Iowa. Golden Hills can help!
Satisfy wanderlust with WanderLoess - The Loess Hills Missouri River Region of Mills, Pottawattamie, and Harrison counties offers countless recreational and cultural activities. We help coordinate this regional initiative. Find them all at WanderLoess.com.
Take a hike - Our Loess Hills Hiking Guide includes information about hiking trails in the beautiful Loess Hills. For a long, rugged hike, check out Brent's Trail, which just opened in 2019.
Take the scenic route - Get off the freeway and see our small towns. Golden Hills coordinates three of Iowa's Byways. Western Skies Scenic Byway parallels Interstate 80, the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway is a great alternative to Interstate 29, and Glacial Trail Scenic Byway is an easy weekend getaway in northwest Iowa.
Cure cabin fever with a cabin stay- Several state parks and county parks offer cabin rentals, including some year-round. The Loess Hills Hideaway Cabins in Monona County are a privately owned business near the Loess Hills State Forest. Golden Hills is working with several partners to add new cabins at Willow Lake, Arrowhead, and Pony Creek in 2020.
Support local farmers - Check out a farmers market, join a CSA, or find local food producers in your neighborhood with our Southwest Iowa Local Food Guide.
Go for a bike ride - Golden Hills is helping our small towns and rural areas become more bikeable. We coordinate the regional Frontier Iowa Trails network, work to expand bike routes, and help educate people about safe bicycling. Each September, we host the annual Loess Hills Parks & Peaks Bicycle Tour. In 2020, we are also planning a bike ride as part of the Loess Hills Prairie Seminar.
Visit Fremont County's - Check out the abundant prairies, wetlands, hills, and rivers of southwest Iowa through our Fremont County Outdoor Adventures programs.
Go paddling - The West Nishnabotna Water Trail in eastern Pottawattamie County is the only state-designated water trail in our part of the state. Golden Hills helped establish the water trail and is currently working with DNR to extend the designation into Shelby County. Many other rivers and lakes also have paddling accesses. We also have educational programs and floats through our Explore Your Watershed events.
Grow native plants - Learn how to harvest prairie seed and grow native flowers, shrubs, grasses, and trees through our Growing Natives and Native Oak Project workshops.
Go hunting - As a partner with the Southwest Iowa Communities for Pheasants and Farmers Initiative, we are working to expand wildlife habitat and public access for hunting.
Support local artists - The Southwest Iowa Art Tour is held every September in multiple communities throughout the region. Waubonsie State Park hosts artists in residence during the winter, with public programs by each artist.
Improve water quality - Learn how to build a rain garden. Install a prairie strip. Landowners and farmers in the Nishnabotna watershed may even be eligible for cost-share for conservation practices.
Learn more about the services we offer and how we can help you, your business, organization, or community. Explore the Golden Hills website and check back often to learn about all the projects and programs happening across the region throughout the year!
Celebrate the Loess Hills during Loess Hills & Heritage Week, September 21-29, at a variety of events throughout western Iowa’s Loess Hills counties. During this week, individuals can escape from the hustle and bustle of work life and enjoy western Iowa’s Loess Hills. This week will showcase the unique geological, topographical, archeological, and other distinct aspects of the Loess hills, including their special plants, animals, and history.
Events span to several western counties in Iowa: Woodbury, Monona, Harrison, Pottawattamie, Mills, and Fremont. Some events during the week include the Southwest Iowa Art Tour, prairie seed harvest activities, Woodbine Applefest, Loess Hills Music Festival, and many more. A complete listing of events can be found at http://www.visitloesshills.org/LHHW.
The Loess Hills (pronounced “Luss”), meaning loose or crumbly, is one of Iowa’s important natural resources, ranging 640,000 Acres, across Western Iowa. According to the Nonprofit Scenic America, these hills have unique plant and animal species and native Iowa prairie, making the Loess Hills one of the 10 ten most scenic byways in the United States. Loess Hills & Heritage Week is coordinated by Golden Hills RC&D, with support from Bill Blackburn and many other local partners.
Last night (September 12), Jamie Smidt Fowler led a plant identification walk near Imogene. This program was part of our Fremont County Outdoor Adventures. funded by Fremont County Tourism. The walk focused on edible and medicinal uses of plants, as well as discussion of which plants are native or invasive. Below is a sampling of some of the plants we saw!
(Please note that not all of these plants are edible. Foraging should only be done when you can properly identify species and know how to adequately prepare them for consumption).
The second annual Loess Hills Parks & Peaks Bicycle Tour was held September 4-8 in western Iowa's scenic Loess Hills region. The ride began at Lewis & Clark State Park near Onawa. Riders were treated to a keelboat ride and program about Lewis & Clark's expedition on Wednesday evening and camped at the park.
Thursday morning, riders passed through Onawa on their way to the R.T. Reese Homestead cabin, where Monona County Conservation Board naturalist Andrea Porter led a program about Loess Hills flora & fauna. From there, the route went through Turin, Moorhead, and on to the Loess Hills State Forest Brent S. Olson Memorial Visitor Center in Pisgah. Several riders rode to Preparation Canyon State Park and the surrounding State Forest.
From Pisgah, riders were routed west to Murray Hill, through Little Sioux, River Sioux, and Mondamin, Missouri Valley, and Honey Creek, ending at Hitchcock Nature Center for the evening. Natural Resource Specialist Chad Graeve led a hike and discussed conservation and stewardship in the Loess Hills.
On Saturday, participants took backroads through Crescent and Council Bluffs, where they joined up with the Wabash Trace Nature Trail. The trail took riders through Mineola, Silver City, and Malvern. the final overnight stop.
Sunday, the final day, passed through Tabor and Thurman before ending at Waubonsie State Park.
The riders had great weather and got to experience many of the most scenic parks and roads in the Loess Hills region while learning what the Loess Hills are and why they matter. Golden Hills is expecting to host the ride for the third time in 2020, coinciding with the Iowa State Parks Centennial.
Golden Hills would like to thank all the riders and everyone who made the ride a success! Special shoutout to the following sponsors and supporters:
The Nature Conservancy; Iowa Department of Natural Resources; Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation; Monona County Conservation Board; Loess Hills Bed & Breakfast; Pottawattamie County Conservation Board; Iowa Bicycle Coalition; SRAM; Malvern Liberty Memorial Board; Dave's Old Home; Moreau's Backerei & Pizzeria; and more! This project was made possible in part by a funding award from the National Park Service and Outdoor Foundation.
Golden Hills RC&D, Friends of Waubonsie State Park, and Iowa Department of Natural Resources are excited to announce a call for applications for the latest round of an artist residency program at Waubonsie State Park! This is the second year of the program, the first of its kind in the state.
Located in the Loess Hills of Southwest Iowa, Waubonsie State Park’s 2,000 acres feature prairies, savannas, and woodlands which are home to diverse flora and fauna, not to mention breathtaking vistas.
Artists will receive lodging in a studio cabin and a primitive studio space in the park at no cost for the duration of the residency. In return, artists will deliver at least one public program per month of their residency and donate one piece of art to the park at the conclusion of their stay.
Learn more and apply today: goldenhillsrcd.org/artist-in-residence
A hub for nature, culture, and more in the Loess Hills-Missouri River Region
The Loess Hills Missouri River Region recently relaunched WanderLoess, an online hub for nature, recreation, tourism, arts, and culture in southwest Iowa’s Harrison, Pottawattamie, and Mills counties.
WanderLoess was conceptualized in 2015 during a regional planning process for the Loess Hills Missouri River Region Parks to People plan. and was envisioned as "Coordination of talented artisans, naturalists, chefs and performers that translates into an exceptional online and off-line resources and events delivering education, recreation, local food experiences, arts, and entertainment.
"WanderLoess is a play on words--"wanderlust" meaning a desire to travel and explore, and "loess" (pronounced 'luss,' rhyming with 'bus') being our local soils. The name started with an Instagram hashtag by a bicyclist in the Loess Hills and has grown to include exploration and enjoyment of southwest Iowa’s myriad amenities and attractions.
The website includes activities categorized into nature and outdoor recreation, local foods and agritourism, arts, and culture; themed “best-of” lists and sample itineraries; places to stay; and a map of sites and activities in the tri-county region.
The new site was created in partnership with Hyperion Creative Agency of Council Bluffs. Visit the new site at www.wanderloess.com.
The Loess Hills Missouri River Region includes a board of directors with representatives from each of the three counties and is coordinated by Golden Hills RC&D of Oakland. Learn more about the initiative and download the full plan at www.goldenhillsrcd.org/lhmrr.
By Bill Blackburn
While U.S.-China relations have been tense recently when it comes to international trade, one area that has witnessed a new era of collaboration and cooperation between the two countries is the study of the Loess Hills. In June, a small gathering of U.S. and Chinese experts on loess soils and restoration met in Yangling, Shaanxi, China to share information on the Iowa Loess Hills and China Loess Plateau, their condition, value, restoration and protection, as well as the latest research on loess soils.
Loess (pronounced as “luss,” “Lois,“ or “less”) is a yellowish deposit of wind-blown rock dust found in Germany, Argentina, New Zealand, U.S., China, and many other parts of the world. However, it forms hills of significant height (60-350 feet) only in two places: in the Yellow River region in and around Shaanxi province, China, and in the mini-mountains (bluffs) in the Midwest U.S. that parallel the Missouri River 220 miles from Mound City, MO to Westfield, IA. In Iowa, the beautiful sharp-cliffed hills can be seen along Interstate 29 through the western sides of Fremont, Mills, Pottawattamie, Harrison, Monroe, Woodbury, and Plymouth Counties. They were formed from glacier-ground rock powder brought down the Missouri River and blown into dunes by westerly winds.
The Chinese “Loess Plateau,” which covers an area only slightly less than the entire state of Texas, is located several hundred miles southwest of Beijing. The loess there eroded from various mountain areas over millions of years, was collected in the Gobi and other deserts, and from there was blown into the plateau. Over the centuries, the Loess Plateau, had become massively eroded from overgrazing and deforestation, with the resulting erosion filling the Yellow River with deposits of so much loess that devastating flooding of croplands became common. A huge restoration project funded largely by the World Bank and others set out to partially restore the plateau over an area roughly the size of New Jersey.
The June U.S.-China Exchange on Loess Landforms came about as a result of a lecture series on the Loess Plateau done in Western Iowa and Omaha in 2017 by John Liu, a Chinese-American documentary film-maker from Beijing, who had recorded the dramatic conditions of the Plateau before and after restoration. Acclaimed soil scientist Professor Robert Horton of Iowa State University worked with his long-time friend, senior Professor Baoyuan Liu (no relation to John) and Professor Fan Jun, both soil scientists at China’s Northwest University of Agriculture and Forestry, to have NWUAF sponsor the meeting.
The Gilchrist Foundation, which co-sponsored John Liu’s 2017 lecture tour, also funded the participation of young professionals, Graham McGaffin, of the Nature Conservancy-Loess Hills, Sioux City, and Assistant Professor Bradley Miller of Iowa State. Also participating from the U.S. were Professor Michael Thompson of Iowa State, and Bill Blackburn of the Green Hollow Center in Fremont County. Presentation were also given via the internet by Professor Tom Bragg, plant specialist from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and John Thomas, loess erosion expert from the Hungry Canyons erosion control program at Golden Hills RC&D in Oakland.
Besides the one-day conference in Yangling, the U.S.-China delegation also visited NWUAF soils research stations in the Loess Plateau near Chang Wu and Ansai to review their latest research projects. The tour was capped off with a visit to the famous terra cotta warriors of the Qin Dynasty Emperor that were buried near Xian in the Plateau around 200 BC---warriors we were surprised to learn were made of loess soil glued together with rice water.
The agenda and presentations offered at the Exchange and pictures from the tour of the Plateau can be seen on the Golden Hills RC&D website ( www.goldenhillsrcd.org/ucell.html). A follow-up meeting in Western Iowa is now being considered.
Golden Hills is working with Iowa Rivers Revival and local partners to host the Master River Stewards Program (MRSP) in western Iowa in 2019. MRSP is an adult-education program that teaches watershed awareness, paddling and navigating skills, river and stream dynamics, aquatic habitat, water quality and water monitoring, and policies related to floodplains, river protection and restoration.
Cost for the program is $50 but financial assistance may be available upon request. Registration will close on August 12 or when maximum capacity is reached. This is a certificate program and participants are expected to attend all sessions to receive certification. If you are unable to attend all sessions but are still interested in participating, we may be able to accommodate. Email Project Coordinator Lance Brisbois with questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a more detailed agenda and registration, visit Golden Hills' MRSP web page.
Golden Hills is excited to announce that we have been awarded $350,000 in the latest round of Iowa West Foundation grants for the Loess Hills Missouri River Region Cabin Initiative. This partnership with Harrison, Mills, and Pottawattamie county conservation boards will construct new cabins at Willow Lake Recreation Area, Pony Creek Park, and Arrowhead Park.
Through this collaboration, the three counties will receive a volume discount on the cabins and will increase profitability for the three parks. Increasing opportunities for cabin camping in the tri-county region will also encourage more residents and visitors to explore and enjoy the abundant outdoor recreation opportunities in the region.
Each cabin will have an open concept including kitchen, bathrooms, outdoor porch, and fire pit. The cabins will each accommodate 10-12 people, offering a rustic cabin experience with modern conveniences.
These three parks were decided based on the Iowa Parks Foundation's Cabins Task Force recommendations. Each site includes outdoor recreation opportunities like fishing, paddling, hiking, and wildlife watching.
The six cabins are expected to be built in 2019 and open for rentals by summer 2020.
Learn more about the Loess Hills Missouri River Region Parks to People plan here.