Golden Hills, working with many partners, coordinated the first-ever LoHi Trek from June 6-9, 2021. The event attracted more than 30 participants from across Iowa and Nebraska. The name is from Lo(ess) Hi(lls) and was coined by Kelly Madigan, who hiked the entire length of the Loess Hills from South Dakota to Missouri in fall 2020. Learn more about Kelly's LoHi journey here.
The original plan was to have trekkers hike about 40 miles in 4 days, including both on- and off-road sections along the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway corridor. Because the temperatures were in the 90s, however, the group decided to remove some of the on-road sections and lessen the distance to keep everyone safe and well. Monona County Conservation Board offered a trailer that was used to haul everyone's gear, and the hikers camped in their own tents each night.
Day 1 began at the Loess Hills Prairie Seminar, where participants saw a program about raptor rehabilitation from Save Our Avian Resources and got an overview of the plan for the Trek. They got a sack lunch from Frannie's Cafe and were then driven to Southwood Conservation Area near Smithland. At Southwood, the trek started near the pond and took a trail to the Hammond Access on the south end of the park.
From there, the route took a gravel road into Rodney.
Just past Rodney, the hikers took a pit stop at the Pit Shop located at Rodney Pits/Peters Park. They had ice cream and other cold treats.
After Rodney Pits, the route took more rural county roads south past the historic Grant Cemetery.
The day ended at the Hargroves North tract of Loess Hills Wildlife Area near Ticonic, where participants set up tents in the shade. Dinner was provided by Ada J's Steakhouse in Ute.
The campsite was located near a pond that offered scenic sunset views.
Day 2 started with breakfast at the campsite, with coffee from Frontiers Coffee Company of Onawa. Day 2 was going to be the longest day of the Trek, but due to the heat, trekkers were shuttled by vehicle several miles down the road to Utterback Pond. From the pond, the group hiked up a prairie ridge through the Loess Hills Wildlife Area.
The route through Loess Hills Wildlife Area also included wooded areas and field edges.
Throughout the event, several participants provided insight and information about the Loess Hills, native plants, and ecology of the region.
Lunch was held at the Loess Hills Prairie Seminar site, provided by Divide Hill Roadhouse.
After more prairie ridges, the trek reached the Arcola Access, then hiked a gravel road east to Van & Jeannie Sterner's place for shade and refreshments.
The day ended at Kelly Madigan & Doug Chafa's property, which offered many recreational opportunities like swimming and paddling in the farm pond.
Several local residents joined with the hikers for dinner and discussed their love for the land and their reasons for living there.
Day 3 was also rerouted from the original route to shorten miles due to heat. Trekkers left the campsite and hiked up a ridge into Turin Wildlife Management Area.
From the wildlife area, trekkers took a county road south into the town of Turin, where lunch was provided by the Northwest Iowa group of the Sierra Club. Dave Poole, the mayor of Turin, opened the air-conditioned community center to provide some relief from the hot sun.
After Turin, the hikers were shuttled back to the Madigan property instead of the planned campsite because of the hot weather. Participants had down time in the afternoon and some completed watercolor paintings led by Melanie Vote and Anna Stoysich. Dinner was provided by Sabor a Mexico out of Ute, Iowa.
The fourth and final day was shortened again due to heat concerns. Trekkers were driven to a property owned by Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation south of Turin. INHF's Loess Hills Land Stewardship Director Kody Wohlers led the group through the property and discussed their stewardship efforts on the land.
Hikers were driven to the Brent Olson Loess Hills State Forest Visitor Center in Pisgah for lunch, provided by Dave's Old Home Cafe. After lunch, the final walk of the Trek took place at the Loess Hills State Forest overlook, where Sandy Harris with the Loess Hills Hospitality Association gave a welcome and offered souvenirs to hikers.
After the overlook, several trekkers drove a few miles up the road to the historic Mann Schoolhouse. This was planned to be the lunch site for the day as it would have been directly on the route, but lunch was relocated due to the heat. Local resident Judy Ehlers opened the school for a free educational tour of the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. From there, trekkers headed home.
Despite the heat, the event was overall a success. Many participants expressed interest in other similar hikes in the Loess Hills.
Golden Hills would like to thank all of the partners that made the LoHi Trek successful, including:
Golden Hills will coordinate more Loess Hills hikes, so stay tuned at goldenhillsrcd.org