In fall 2018, we partnered with Pottawattamie County Conservation and Iowa Prairie Network on events for native prairie seed collection. In 2019, with support from Gilchrist Foundation, we are expanding these efforts throughout the Loess Hills.
We will work with local partners to find volunteers for the project. Volunteers will visit local prairie remnants and learn how to identify which plants are available for seed collection. The collected seed will then be used for local prairie restoration and reconstruction projects.
We anticipate at least monthly seed collection workshops from May through October at several sites in the Loess Hills and will be looking for volunteers. If you are interested, fill out this form.
Check the project website for more details as they are confirmed!
We are partnering with West Pottawattamie Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Pottawattamie County Conservation to offer the Iowa Master Conservationist Program starting Spring 2019. The program will take place primarily at Hitchcock Nature Center, providing participants with hands-on interaction with the diversity of the state’s natural resources. The program teaches about Iowa’s natural ecosystems and the diversity of conservation challenges and opportunities that exist in the region. Graduates of the course learn to make informed choices for leading and educating others to improve conservation in Iowa.
The program consists of approximately 12 hours of online curriculum and six face-to-face meetings. The online modules will include lessons and resources by Iowa State subject-matter experts to be reviewed at the participants’ own pace at home or at the ISU Extension and Outreach West Pottawattamie County office. Module topics include conservation history and science, understanding Iowa ecosystems, implementing conservation practices in human dominated landscapes and developing skills to help educate others about conservation practices.
Six face-to-face meetings will build on the online lessons and be held at Hitchcock Nature Center from 8:00 a.m. to Noon on the 4th Saturday of the month starting April 27th and ending September 28th. Each face-to-face meeting will be led by local subject-matter experts to demonstrate how the principles covered in the online curriculum and play out locally. Participants will work with program partners Golden Hills RC&D, Pottawattamie County Conservation, Pottawattamie County Soil & Water Conservation, Pottawattamie County NRCS, ISU Extension and Outreach West Pottawattamie, along with educational experts in their fields.
Registration for the course is $100/participant or $50 for college and high school students with a valid school ID and is due at the time of registration. To register contact the ISU Extension and Outreach West Pottawattamie County office at 712-366-2646. The deadline to register is April 19th at 4:00 p.m.
ISU Extension and Outreach—West Pottawattamie County
Hamburg, IA (January 14) – A new chapter begins in Iowa’s State Parks this week as the Artist in Residence Program kicks off at Waubonsie State Park. This is the first program of its type to be implemented in any of Iowa’s State Parks. The goal of the residency is to connect with a broader audience of park-goers, thus increasing the number of visitors and ultimately educating more people about the Loess Hills ecosystem. The artists and visitors will engage with the natural resources of the park through a visual arts lens. Artists will use their time at Waubonsie to immerse themselves in the landscape as a source of inspiration and opportunity to intensely focus on their work. In exchange for their accommodations they will leave a permanent work of art for the park and also conduct a public engagement session during their stay.
Tom Harnack is the program’s first Artist in Residence. He was born and raised in Carroll, Iowa area and has been a dedicated artist for the past 37 years. Tom received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa in 1995. In 1998, he worked and studied in Shigaraki, Japan at a center that dates back to the twelfth century. From his experience there, Tom has built two anagama kilns in the Midwest. Tom also co-founded Omaha ClayWorks in 2000. He is accomplished in all aspects of ceramics and continues to introduce others to the art through demonstrations and classes. Excited about the opportunity for a residency program at Waubsonsie State Park, Tom reflects on the Loess Hills, “I feel as an artist, nature is my main inspiration. When I fire my wood kiln, it takes 7 days outdoors. Whether it be the owls in the grove, or the stars before sunrise, it’s being in the natural environment that inspires my creativity.”
Tom’s residency at Waubonsie lasts through mid-February. As part of the outreach portion of this program, there will be four opportunities for open studio times. The public is invited to join Tom at the Washawtee Maintenance Shed (smaller building off the south parking lot of the Lodge) where his residency studio is set up. Visitors will have a chance to learn about the art of ceramics, watch Tom while he creates and ask questions in a relaxed intimate setting. Open studio hours are from 6 to 8 PM on the following dates in February: Tuesday the 5th, Thursday the 7th, Tuesday the 12thand Thursday the 14th. Visitors are encouraged to come early to hike around the park and explore the wonders of Waubonsie! Tom’s final public outreach event will be a celebration at Washawtee Lodge on Friday, February 15th from 6 to 8 PM. There will be a potluck dinner and viewing of some of Tom’s works from 6 to 7 PM, followed by a presentation of the history of Tom’s career in ceramics, which started at a young age and has taken him across the world.
Tom is one of three artists who were selected from a multitude of applications received from artists in six states and a variety of disciplines. Additional artists receiving the residency awards for January through April of 2019 include Vanessa Lacy of Kansas City (Missouri) and Zack Jones of Malvern (Iowa). This first-in-the-state Artist in Residency program at one of Iowa’s State Parks is held at one of the region’s ecological and recreational treasures.
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. Park Manager Matt Moles has been working with Golden Hills RC&D Project Coordinator Lance Brisbois and Loess Hills National Scenic Byway Coordinator Rebecca Castle to develop and launch the project. While there have been other artist residency programs offered through the National Parks System and select parks in other states, this will be the first such program in one of Iowa’s State Parks.
The program is loosely modeled after similar regional programs such as the Residency Program at Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. The 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.
Waubonsie State Park is only about an hour’s drive from Omaha or Lincoln, NE; two hours from Kansas City; and 2.5 hours from Des Moines. It is located near the southern end of the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway. To learn more about the Artist in Residence program and the artists, visit www.goldenhillsrcd.org/artist-in-residence.
By Doug Chafa
(Please note this post is part of the Loess Country series)
Named from the French word “becheur” which means, “digger,” badgers live in grasslands and do well on the edges of fields and forests. While they are found in all 99 of Iowa’s counties, badgers are more numerous in southern and western Iowa, and are particularly attracted to the native prairie, pasture, oak woodlands and farmland in the loess hills.
This iconic grassland predator is armed with 2 ½-to 3-inch claws on its front paws and known for its powerful and fierce disposition. This mammal has a grizzled gray fur color with short stout legs. Its facial markings are distinct, with black badges and white stripes on its cheeks and a white stripe from the nose to the neck. Its ears are set wide on the side of its head. It is primarily nocturnal and fossorial, which means spending time underground in dens. These fearless carnivores are in the mustelidae family that includes weasels and mink, and have the musky odor common among the members of this family.
Badgers have been known to eat gophers, ground squirrels, mice, snakes, frogs, and toads and are one of the few predators of skunks. They will eat ground nesting birds, their eggs, and nestlings and will scale banks to dig out and eat bank swallow nestlings or eggs. Badgers can dig a large number of burrows searching for pocket gophers. While the burrows can be hazards to machinery and livestock, badgers do provide a significant amount of rodent control.
Mating season stretches from late summer into the fall. Badgers have delayed implantation where the fertilized embryo doesn’t start development until February. Two to three kits are born early in the spring, blind and covered with fur. Their eyes open at four weeks and the kits are weaned at eight weeks. The young disperse late summer through early fall and can be spotted during the day. The young are less alert to roads and vehicles so many are hit on highways.
Instead of hibernating, badgers use long cycles of sleepiness during the winter which reduces their expenditure of energy and need to forage. They can be seen in the winter as they occasionally exit their dens on days when the temperature is above freezing.
Badgers have a well-earned reputation as being aggressive and fierce. They snarl, hiss, and growl when confronted, often making a series of short bluff charges at perceived threats before retreating to the safety of a den.
I stumbled upon a pair of fighting badgers as a kid and it was one of the loudest and most savage fights I have ever witnessed. They were oblivious to my dog and me as they circled and snarled and tangled with each other with vicious bites and wrestling. Badgers have very loose skin which allows them to turn and bite back, even when an attacker is biting and pulling on them.
Adult females weigh up to 14 pounds and males can hit 30 pounds. They have few predators in western Iowa, but in western states, mountain lions, wolves, and bears have been known to kill adult badgers. Young badgers are occasionally taken by golden eagles and coyotes.
The badger’s earthworks are useful to other wildlife and plants. Some animals, like coyotes, groundhogs, and foxes, make use of badger dens and burrows. Burrowing owls have been known to nest in badger burrows. Snakes and toads use the burrows to cool during the heat of warm days. Mounds of dirt excavated by badger burrowing create bare soil for prairie seeds to colonize. So while you may or may not ever see a badger, most likely you’ve seen its handiwork.
Learn more about what we've been up to in our 2018 Annual Report below. If you like our work, please consider donating to Golden Hills for Giving Tuesday on Tuesday, November 27!
"Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving."
As a small nonprofit, we rely on support from generous donors like you to fulfill our mission of developing and promoting sustainable cultural and conservation projects that enhance the quality of life and preserve the assets of rural western Iowa. You can make a one-time donation or set up recurring donations through our Omaha Gives account. All donations are tax-deductible.
You can also support Golden Hills on any day of the year through an online donation at http://www.goldenhillsrcd.org/donate.html
Thank you for your support!
By Bill Blackburn
(this post is part of the Loess Country series. Check back soon for more!)
The Office of the State Archaeologist at the University of Iowa can tell an interesting story about the early peoples who first settled the Loess Hills of Western Iowa. Humans first arrived in the Hills around 11,500 B.C. to 8,500 BC, not long after most of the loess sediment of ground rock powder from northern glaciers was wind-deposited to form the hills. These so-called Paleoindians were nomadic hunters of bison and other large game. The Archaic peoples that followed from 8500 BC to 1000 BC were nomadic hunter-gathers but made greater use of semi-permanent base camps and smaller seasonal camps.
The Woodland Indians (1000 BC to 1250 AD) were more sedentary, living in small hamlets of structures that were earth-covered or wattle-and-daub construction (woven lattice of wooden strips--wattle– that was daubed with a sticky material usually made of some combination of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung and straw). Over 130 of these lodge home sites are being protected within the 900-acre Glenwood Archaeological State Preserve, now under development. These people made pottery, hunted deer and small game, cultivated corn and squash, and gathered wild berries and seeds. They prospered for approximately 300 years, disappearing from the archeological record around 1300 AD due to extended drought, according to some experts, or because the threats of Oneota Indian raiders (predecessors of the Ioway and Otoe tribes), according to others.
The Oneota were about the only Indians roaming the hills from 1300 AD to until the 1700s. Then the Ioway Indians (called Ayauway by Lewis and Clark) and ancestors of the Pawnee began to appear. Hunting parties from the Otoe and Omaha tribes that lived on the east side of the Missouri River also started venturing to the Iowa side and into the Hills. The nomadic Dakota Sioux traveled the river, roving the territory on both sides.
In 1837, the Potawatomi Indians (also spelled “Pottawattamie” or “Pottawatomie,” a traditional word meaning “Fire Keepers” or “Keepers of the Council Fires”) were relocated from Indiana and Illinois to Missouri and ultimately to Western Iowa. They remained there with their great war chief, Waubonsie (also spelled “Waubonsee” or “Wabaunsee”) until 1846-48, when, in response to pressures from growing pioneer settlements, they were moved to Northeast Kansas. It was about this time that the great Mormon Migration from Nauvoo, IL arrived in Western Iowa.
Of course, the Mormons were not the first European-heritage pioneers to show interest in the Hills. French fur traders began exploring the region in the early 1700s. On July 16, 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark observed this unusual landform as they came up Missouri River. Clark recorded in his journal: “This prairie I call the Ball pated (sic: bald headed) prairie from a range of ball hills parrell (sic) to the river from 3 to 6 miles distant & extends as far up the down as I can see.” At that time the Loess Hills had remained generally treeless except for a few oak savannahs due to the drier climate and repeated prairie fires.
Artist George Catlin traveling by steamboat up the Missouri River in 1832 went ashore to climb the Loess Hills and described the place as one where a “thousand velvet-covered hills go tossing and leaping down with steep or graceful declivities.” A mere few decades later, new settlers were giving birth to the farms and communities that continue throughout the Hills to this day.
By Ryan Allen
(This is part of the Loess Country series--check back for more soon!)
is what I think
when I look my little girl in the eyes as I hold her. This little one,
the first bud of a compass plant, waking up
in a dew-soaked prairie,
a new life in my hands and arms--
at first hanging so purple
cocooned between caterpillar
between a breath a cry and a shiver
to shake off the fall leaves
circling in wind,
now so content
to eat and poop and pee and love.
I learn new ways
to kneel and pray.
What we plant is what we grow.
And the sky
is spinning forever
and raining the yellowest leaves
around my little girl’s cry.
O! Prairie! O! Wind!
carry us to that piece of earth
where all our flowers
By John Thomas, Project Director and Fluvial Geomorphologist for the Hungry Canyons Alliance. This article is part of the Loess Country series--check back for more soon!
Erosion control or stabilization of deep gullies in the Loess Hills is challenging since filling the gully and excavating a core trench in an area of such deep ravines is often cost-prohibitive. The only practical way to stop gully erosion is with a pipe-drop structure that passes water runoff from the top to the base of the gully through a pipe.
The Hungry Canyons Alliance (HCA), in conjunction with the USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service, is using directional drilling techniques to bore a hole at an angle through the loess soil from upstream of the headcut to the base of the gully wall. Polyethylene (PE) pipe is inserted at the base and pulled back up through the bore hole from downstream to upstream. The slurry used to drill the hole acts as a sealant between the pipe and soil making the borehole watertight as it dries. A vertical perforated PE riser is added to the angled drainage pipe to serve as an inlet. A water-retention basin is excavated upstream of the inlet, and a dam or terrace is built downstream between the inlet and the headcut of the ravine to collect water for gradual drainage through the riser and pipe. The basin allows a larger storm event to be controlled by the small drainage pipe. No filling or other work is done in the gully, dramatically reducing earthwork costs. The near-vertical gully slopes will gradually slump to a stable slope over time because collapsed debris will not be carried away by surges of runoff.
Twelve of these experimental Bored Headcut Basin (BHB) structures have been built in the Loess Hills since 2007 to control 20 – 80-ft deep gully headcuts with small drainage areas (0.5 – 37 acres). These BHB’s have averaged only about $11,000 to build, with a maximum of around $17,000. They have weathered up to 4-inch rain events without incident. Considering that a traditional pipe-drop structure may cost as much as $60,000, the BHB has proven very cost-effective. HCA continues to monitor the progress of these structures while planning future BHB projects.
If you are interested in controlling gully erosion on your property, please call your local USDA-NRCS office. Cost share for these projects have averaged 78%, so the average landowner cost for these projects has been only about $2,400. Plus, the USDA-NRCS provides survey and design assistance.
Golden Hills staff will be presenting at the Draft Meetup this Thursday evening at Barley's in Council Bluffs, discussing the many projects we do to build bikeable communities, develop regional trail systems, and promote bicycle tourism in southwest Iowa.
DRAFT is a nationwide meetup series that taps into people who love bikes, biz and beer. Our events bring communities together to celebrate the latest bike industry innovations. Speeches, announcements and conversations allow business leaders, product developers, tech innovators, advocates, artists and more to share big ideas—all while enjoying delicious craft beer.
Join us for a fast-paced event of ideas, entrepreneurs and bikes, capturing the exciting things happening in the bike industry at DRAFT: Iowa in Council Bluffs at Barley's Bar and Grill. Hosted by the Iowa Bicycle Coalition and RAGBRAI.
The event is free but registration is requested. Register here!
Barley's will be providing pizza as an appetizer for all registered attendees!
Pete Phillips - Pork Belly Ventures
Vince Asta - Ponderosa Cyclery
Julie Harris - The Nebraska Bicycling Alliance
Lance Brisbois - Golden Hills
6:00 - 6:30 pm: Beer and banter.
6:30 - 8:15 pm: Program + Speakers
8:15 - 9:00 pm: More beer and banter
We hope to see you there!
We've been working with Pottawattamie County staff to photograph the water trail using Mapillary. The imagery provides a 360° view of the West Nish Water Trail in Pottawattamie County. We have currently completed Avoca to Carson and hope to finish Carson to Macedonia in 2019. The images can be useful to paddlers and tourists, as well as to landowners and farmers along the river. It will be useful long-term to see how the river changes over time. It will also be a good way to imagine being on the river this winter when it's too cold to get out there!
A few sample images are below. Click here to see more.