Golden Hills had another successful season of prairie seed harvesting thanks to more than 100 volunteers who joined us throughout the Loess Hills. We hosted at least one volunteer opportunity in each of the seven Loess Hills counties from Akron down to Hamburg.
Several events took place at Hitchcock Nature Center in Pottawattamie County.
Skeleton weed (Chondrilla juncea) is a unique and rare species for Iowa, typically found much farther west in shortgrass and desert regions. Its fluffy seeds blow away quickly and often don't last long. The plant is easy to overlook surrounded by grasses and other forbs, so finding seed to pick from skeleton weed is always a pleasant surprise!
Leadplant, Amorpha canescens, is a common prairie flower. Its seed is often abundant and one person can easily hand-harvest a lot of its seed in a small area.
Most of our trips to Hitchcock Nature Center included a visit to Bouteloua Ridge, a spur ridge off of the popular Badger Ridge. This ridge is so named for the abundance of Bouteloua gracilis (blue grama) and Bouteloua curtipendula (side-oats grama). The blue grama seedheads resemble eyelashes, and side-oats look like small oats sticking out nearly perpendicular from the grass stems.
Our Harrison County event was at one of the most iconic Loess Hills spots, Murray Hill Scenic Overlook. Here we were able to harvest a significant amount of Yucca glauca. Like skeleton weed, yucca is more of a desert species not usually found east of the Loess Hills, as it prefers the well-drained soils found on only the steepest Loess Hills ridges.
In Monona County, we explored an off-trail area in the Preparation Canyon Unit of Loess Hills State Forest. This event included some of the most rugged and challenging terrain, but our eager volunteers were treated to amazing views.
Fremont County's seed harvest featured Sunset Ridge, another popular hiking route, at Waubonsie State Park.
In Woodbury County we partnered with Woodbury County Conservation at Dorothy Peacut Nature Center.
Plymouth County included Five Ridge Prairie in partnership with Plymouth County Conservation Board and Iowa Prairie Network.
In Mills County, we worked with Iowa Department of Natural Resources at Green Hill Wildlife Management Area. This is one of the newest wildlife areas in the Loess Hills and overlooks Council Bluffs and Omaha.
Despite a dry year, multiple seed harvests were canceled due to wet weather. Fortunately for the events we did have, most included beautiful weather with great fall prairie colors.
Our final event was another seed harvest at Hitchcock, where we again visited Bouteloua Ridge.
Some of the seed from Hitchcock and other county parks will be used with their permission to propagate plants in a greenhouse this winter for our native plant sale next spring. We have also made some seed packets to distribute at future events. All seed from DNR properties (state parks and wildlife areas) will stay with the DNR for prairie restoration and reconstruction projects.
While we encourage the public to join us for these events, please note that seed-harvesting is generally not allowed without permission on public lands and is not allowed at all for personal use on state grounds. We teach several guidelines about sustainable harvesting, as it is possible to take too much. Make a plan to join us next year and help restore native ecosystems in western Iowa! Details will be posted at goldenhillsrcd.org/prairieseed
Our mission at Golden Hills RC&D is to collaboratively develop and lead community, conservation, and cultural initiatives to improve our quality of life in rural western Iowa. Our "official" territory from our original organizational bylaws is an eight-county region in the southwestern portion of Iowa (Cass, Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Montgomery, Page, Pottawattamie, and Shelby). In 2023, we added four more counties (Audubon, Carroll, Crawford, and Monona). Several projects extend event beyond these 12 counties into more than 20 counties (learn more about where we work).
Our goals are to develop industries in local communities that utilize local resources; ensure healthy natural resources that meet the needs of agriculture, industry, private use, and recreational facilities; promote and enhance art, culture and historic resources in rural communities; collaborate with local governments and organizations on projects that benefit the environment; and work on projects that fill gaps in community services to benefit people of southwest Iowa.
We accomplish these goals by focusing our work in five program areas: outdoor recreation and tourism, land stewardship, water resources, local foods, and arts and culture. Today's focus in the new Mission Monday series is Outdoor Recreation and Tourism.
Golden Hills coordinates three scenic byways in western Iowa. Glacial Trail Scenic Byway is a 36-mile loop drive that takes some surprising turns through O'Brien, Clay, Buena Vista and Cherokee counties and the rural towns of Peterson and Linn Grove. Traveling through the corners of these four counties, the byway boasts more than its share of parks and wildlife areas. Some are rich with cultural history and natural resources. Visitors will find park structures built during the Civilian Conservation Corps era and log cabins from pioneer days.
The Western Skies Scenic Byway, dedicated in 1998, is among the first state-designated scenic byways in Iowa. Western Skies offers travelers several easy opportunities to venture off the beaten path. The Byway is 142 miles long, traveling through Harrison, Shelby, Audubon and Guthrie Counties, including 14 rural towns. It is easily accessible to travelers from both Interstates 80 and 29. The byway allows visitors to explore and take in a scenic journey along Iowa’s landscapes of rolling hills, working farmsteads, and tranquil small town life.
Situated along Iowa's western border, the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway passes through a unique land formation that is up to 15 miles wide and about 200 miles long from north of Sioux City, Iowa to near St. Joseph, Missouri. The Loess Hills National Scenic Byway began in 1989 as a grassroots effort by dedicated citizens in cooperation with Golden Hills Resource Conservation and Development, Inc. (RC&D) and the Western Iowa Tourism Region.
Golden Hills recently received a grant from the Harrison County Community Foundation to purchase and install trail counters on Brent's Trail. The counters will allow Golden Hills, Harrison County Conservation, and the Iowa DNR know approximately how many people are hiking Brent's Trail throughout the year.
Loess Hills Hiking Guide
Hiking is one of the best ways to explore the Loess Hills. Golden Hills has created an interactive Google Map with information about public hiking trails in the Loess Hills. Since its creation, the map has received over 100,000 views!
The previously mentioned projects are just a sampling of the work that Golden Hills does in the areas of outdoor recreation and tourism in western Iowa. We are always looking for innovative and collaborative projects to highlight the outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities in western Iowa. Read more about our work in this program area here.
As you drive one of western Iowa's scenic byways, you may be curious about the various modifications to the land that you see from the comfort of your car. If you grew up around agriculture, they might be familiar to you, however, if you are a city dweller you may be curious about the landscapes you encounter along the byways. The rolling hills along the Glacial Trail and Western Skies scenic byways, along with the rugged terrain of the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway, present various challenges to landowners as they seek to prevent soil erosion and improve water quality.
Golden Hills RC&D is partnering with the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service on the Regional Conservation Partnership Program for the West Nishnabotna Water Quality and Infrastructure Partnership. The project will provide cost-share to landowners within the West Nishnabotna watershed to implement conservation practices that impact erosion and water quality issues.
Below are short descriptions with photos of a variety of conservation practices that you can see while driving the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway, Loess Hills National Scenic Byway, or the Western Skies Scenic Byway. The RCPP program is designed to help landowners implement these conservation practices to improve water quality and prevent soil erosion. If you are a landowner within the West Nishnabotna watershed, consider attending one of several upcoming public information meetings about the program.
Research shows that by converting 10% of a crop-field to diverse, native perennial vegetation, farmers and landowners can reduce sediment movement off their field by 95 percent and total phosphorous and nitrogen lost through runoff by 90 and 85 percent, respectively. Prairie strips provide a win-win scenario for farmers and wildlife.
(Source: What Are Prairie Strips? by Iowa State University)
The most common areas for grassed waterways are in draws between hills, and other low lying areas on slopes where water concentrates as it runs off a field. Grassed waterways may also be used to convey runoff from terraces, diversions, or other sources of water concentrations to a stable outlet.
Common cover crops used in Iowa include winter hardy plants like rye and wheat. Other less common, but also effective, cover crops include oats, spring wheat, hairy vetch, red clover, sweet clover, turnips, rapeseed, radishes and triticale.
Water and Sediment Control Basins
Quentin (aka “Q”) and Tiffany Carritt are both Marine veterans, Q for 24 years and Tiff for 10. Q wasn’t sure what he wanted to do for a career, but that changed after hearing Joel Salatin on a podcast. While still living in California, they bought 17 acres in the Loess Hills near Crescent in 2019. They considered several states, but settled on Iowa because of family ties, as Q grew up in the western Iowa and Omaha areas. Much of the property had been conventional rowcrop for many years. One of the first things they did after buying the place was plant pasture where the crop fields had been.
Soon after moving in, they built chicken tractors, and started with 25 meat birds in June 2019. They quickly sold out, primarily by customers advertising through word of mouth.
They currently have 8 chicken tractors, with up to 30 birds in each. They process chickens once per month, spring through fall. They raise about 500 birds per year in 5-6 batches, plus one batch of turkeys ready just in time for Thanksgiving. They also have about 45 laying hens, and their eggs are often sold out. Q and Tiff were processing on-farm for a while, but now use Duncan’s Poultry.
They have also spent significant time and resources on infrastructure on the farm. Besides their house, the property did not have other structures, fencing, or water for livestock.
Tiffany started beekeeping and has scaled up to 5 hives, as well as mentoring several people nearby on how to keep bees.
The name Paradigm Pastures comes from changing the paradigm of our modern agricultural and food systems, closer to what they used to be like. They are interested in ethical & humane animal treatment, healthy & local foods, and sustainable & regenerative agriculture.
Paradigm Pastures plans to incorporate goats and pigs as soon as next year, and someday add fruit trees. In the future they would like to have an internship program too.
While primarily self-taught Q participated in the Salatin Semester program, and has attended a Grazing School with Greg Judy. He has read a lot of Salatin and Savory’s work. Tiff has participated in the Great Plains Master Beekeeper program.
The farm has some remnant prairie areas that Q & Tiff hope to restore. They also plan to add more native prairie species into the pastures.
They recently received EQIP cost-share from NRCS that is helping to build fencing and watering systems for their livestock. They are fencing in about 14 acres that will include multispecies rotational grazing.
In addition to farming, Q puts his military experience to use by offering on-farm firearms training for the public.
To learn more and shop Paradigm Pastures at their website and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
Southwest Iowa is home to several spooky, scary sites that are popular destinations around Halloween. While some stories may just be folk tales, others are well-documented tragedies.
One of the most well-known and -visited sites is the infamous Villisca Axe Murder House in Montgomery County. In 1912, an entire family and two neighbor kids were killed overnight in their home. The killer was never caught. You can now stay in the house overnight, and many people who have done so report that the house is haunted.
Earling, in Shelby County, is the site of a 1973 exorcism that has even inspired horror movies:
Council Bluffs has several reportedly-haunted sites, including the Squirrel Cage Jail and Black Angel Statue in Fairview Cemetery.
In Mills County, Malvern Manor has been featured on two different paranormal TV shows. Serious paranormal investigators have spent significant amount of time at the Manor, and continue to host tours and overnight stays for those interested in learning more or ghost hunting.
What are your favorite spots to visit around Halloween?
Tyler Bartley has been farming with Sown Local Foods farm in Malvern, Iowa for seven seasons. He was initially inspired to start by Jean-Martin Fortier and others, primarily online. Tyler took some small business classes with Iowa Western that helped with the business aspects of starting a small farm, and is currently enrolled in Golden Hills’ Dream to Farm program. Otherwise, most of his knowledge has been gained by experience. Tyler has a marketing and communications background, and has worked a variety of service-sector and manual labor jobs. These skills have come in handy for farming.
Tyler started with Jeremy Davis as his business partner. Now Roger Johnson is his business partner, and the farm includes 5 acres are on Roger's land. Roger was previously Tyler’s father’s business partner for many years.
The farm is located on the west edge of Malvern, partly within city limits. Sown Local started with about one acre on east side of a road, and has now expanded to include an additional 5 acres across the road. The east side of road was once a chicken hatchery and the soil has a lot of gravel. The west side of the road was conventional corn/soybean fields until recently. The west side of the farm runs along Silver Creek and includes a buffer strip of CRP prairie. Due to its low-lying proximity to the creek, the farm is located on a floodplain and has experienced flooding in the past.
The farm had four high tunnels then received Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for an additional 115’ x 20’ high tunnel that used a Tunnel Vision kit. The farm uses a water wagon for watering. A new well was drilled in 2023 but haven’t tested water quality yet.
During the peak season, Tyler sells 60-100 pounds of greens to Clean Slate, a meal prep business based in Omaha. Sown Local also sells at the Malvern Farmers Market regularly. They used to do Aksarben Farmers Market in Omaha, but not in 2023. Tyler has occasionally sold at the Red Oak Farmers Market too. Sown Local has sold some to FarmTable Delivery, and in the past couple years has used the Local Food Purchase Assistance (LFPA) program to sell food to local school districts in rural southwest Iowa. Tyler is interested in adding a CSA (community supported agriculture), and is gaging interest in that as well.
The farm, like many businesses, has had issues finding high-quality, reliable labor. Currently Tyler and Roger are the only employees. Tyler would like to be farming fulltime with no off-farm job, but still has an occasional part-time job to help pay the bills.
Sown Local uses organic practices but is not Certified Organic. Instead of herbicides, Tyler uses a flame weeder. He is interested in sustainability , and enjoys experimenting with new crops and practices. Tyler also has a foraging license and is interested in selling mushrooms in the future. Stay tuned on future updates from Sown Local by following their Facebook page and Instagram.
The Loess Hills National Scenic Byway offers over 200 miles on paved roads, plus over 150 miles of excursion loops on paved and gravel roads. Driving the entire byway and its loops will take more than one day. However, if you want a scenic fall drive to view the spectacular fall colors, we've compiled a list of six routes that take in various sites along the byways. Stop in the communities along the way for local flavor, from restaurants to shops. Fall is a wonderful time to explore the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway!
Waubonsie, Riverton, Sidney, and Thurman
Tabor, Glenwood, and Pony Creek Lake
Loess Hills State Forest
The next two weeks will be peak fall color viewing in most of western Iowa. The Glacial Trail and Western Skies Scenic Byways offer travelers, both local and out-of-state, wonderful opportunities to visit rural Iowa. While you can certainly travel the entirety of each byway in one day, below we have selected two specific routes to optimize your fall scenic drive. Each itinerary suggest stops along the way, from scenic viewpoints to state parks. Take our recommendations, but also venture off the beaten path to see truly remarkable and beautiful slices of rural western Iowa.
The bridge over the river in Linn Grove is not yet officially open, so continue east on County Road C13 towards Sioux Rapids. Turn north on US-71 and go through the town of Sioux Rapids. After lunch at the Wagon Wheel Bar and Grill, continue north on US-71. After crossing the Little Sioux once again, turn west onto N River Rd. If you enjoy wine, stop at InnSpiration Wine and Vines just north of Linn Grove. Continue west on N River Rd/CR-51, cross CR-M36, and after passing the Lois Tiffany Prairie, turn north onto CR-14. When you reach IA-10, make a stop at Bertram Reservation for a nice hike to walk off your lunch. Then continue west on IA-10 to Peterson to see the Fort Peterson Blockhouse and Kirchner Park.
The Iowa DNR estimates that peak fall color viewing in west central Iowa will be from October 8th to the 14th. As of September 25th, some shrubs and trees are just starting to turn on the drier slopes. Lots of fall prairie flowers in bloom.
The next stop is Springbrook State Park. You can take IA-141 to Bayard and then IA-25 south to the state park. If you are feeling more adventurous, take the country roads but be mindful of farmers harvesting their fields. Springbrook State Park is a quiet retreat in Guthrie County, encompassing 930 acres of rolling hills and mature timber, perfect for fall viewing.
Continue on to Panora to rejoin the Western Skies Scenic Byway. Head south on CR-P28 and stop at Nations Bridge Park. Download the self-guided nature trail brochure, which will help you identify the trees and their beautiful changing leaves.
After your stroll, head to Stuart to drive White Pole Road Scenic Byway, a 26-mile scenic and historic byway that runs parallel to Interstate 80 from mile markers 76 and 100 and connects the communities of Adair, Casey, Menlo, Stuart and Dexter, Iowa.
After reaching Adair, continue west on CR-F65 to visit one of the most unique intersections in the state of Iowa. The Tree in the Road is a cottonwood that has become a landmark in Audubon County. The story is when the county lines were being established the surveyor placed a green cottonwood stick into the ground at the exact point where the lines crossed and grew into the present tree.Some shrubs and trees are just starting to turn on the drier slopes. Lots of fall prairie flowers in bloom.
Fall is the perfect season to visit a farm for family fun! Pumpkin patches, corn mazes, u-pick orchards, cider, live music, games, and more! Check out our list of farm fun on or near western Iowa's scenic byways.
Holly View Acres has designed the greater area’s most extravagant corn maze! Check out the scene for 2023, “Faithful in All Seasons”, covering 9 acres of corn, which can take anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour to navigate. It is stroller-friendly and yet a physical and mental challenge. Follow along with your map as you find 5 different checkpoints which can be turned in for a prize following the maze.
FAMILY FUN Attractions
Corn Kernel Beach
September 15 to October 28
Friday 2pm - 6pm
Satruday 10am - 6pm
Sunday 1pm - 5pm
2941 Moville Blacktop
Hornick, IA 51026
Lyle Ditmars, along with two of his sons, his daughter-in-law, and a crew of hard-working, dedicated employees run Ditmars Orchard & Vineyard, a quaint fruit orchard complete with a cidery, restaurant and sweet shop. Lyle began planting his orchard in fall of 1994, after purchasing the land the previous year. Today he has full grown apple trees, teaming with vibrant fruit, planted in neat rows which are each labeled with the variety of apple that occupies the row. Lyle has many apple varieties growing in his orchard, some we commonly see in commerce, like Red and Yellow Delicious. However, Lyle’s apples are grown right here, in southwest Iowa soil. They are fresh and have not been stored in a warehouse for months. You can see the vibrance in the apples, as they weigh down the loaded branches. You can taste the freshness. In addition to some of the common varieties, he has some tasty lesser-known varieties too, like Bella and Liberty.
Ditmars Orchard is known for their apples, but before the apples are ripe for the season, you can find other delicious fruits there too. From late May through early July, you can pick your own strawberries, which are sold by the pound. Pie cherries are sold by the pound, too, and are usually ready to pick right around mid-June. And, assuming we avoid a late spring frost that compromises the blossoms, apricots and peaches can be purchased in-store from late July through August. And of course, there is a pumpkin patch and pumpkins for sale in the fall.
The apples are not the only eye-catching crop that grows at Ditmars Orchard. Rows of vivid zinnias, popular with the people and pollinators, are bursting with vibrant color and can be purchased by the stem, or the bouquet. Zinnias begin to show color in July and bloom until we get a hard frost, sometime in fall.
In addition to being an orchard, Ditmars is a gathering place for fun family activities. While children can run around outside enjoying the fresh air and playground, adults can spend time in the tasting room, or in the outside seating area, sampling local Iowa beer, wine or hard cider. Ditmars Orchard has created several different blends of wine, some of which highlight apples grown in their orchard. Wine is available by the glass or bottle, purchased in their Orchard Store. Hard cider can be sampled by purchasing a flight, containing six flavors, by the glass or even the growler.