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 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 Mission Monday focus is Outdoor Recreation & Tourism.
Since its inauguration in 2019, Brent's Trail has become one of the most popular hiking trails in the state of Iowa. Here is a selection of articles about the trail:
The trail is the start of a proposed trail that will eventually connect the northern and southern ends of the State Forest. A southern extension was added in 2021, allowing hikers to extend their hike for an 11-mile trek.
The idea for Brent’s Trail was modeled after other long-distance trails such as the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail. While we don’t have mountains in Iowa, we do have the Loess Hills. The Loess Hills are a geologically and ecologically significant part of Iowa’s landscape. Although loess soils are found in many places, the only place in the world with deeper and more expansive loess deposits are in the Yellow River Valley in China.
The Loess Hills in Iowa span 7 counties and roughly 200 miles. Nearby areas of the Loess Hills in Harrison and Monona Counties were designated as National Natural Landmarks by the National Park Service, one of only 7 in Iowa. The Loess Hills have many great opportunities for hiking, but until Brent’s Trail there wasn’t a point-to-point trail of significant distance. Iowa also has many multi-use trails of longer distances, but most are built on former railroad corridors or road right of ways, which means that they are relatively flat. Those looking for a rigorous, more challenging hiking experience were previously limited to isolated areas with a few loop trails. This trail, and its expansion, represent a completely new type of trail for Iowa.
Longtime state forester Brent Olson had a vision for this type of trail many years ago. With the tracts of land owned by the Harrison County Conservation Board and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources through the Loess Hills State Forest, Preparation Canyon State Park, and wildlife management areas, there was the possibility for many miles of ridgetop trail.
However, to connect these areas there was a ‘missing piece’ between Harrison County Conservation Board’s Murray Hill and the DNR’s Loess Hills State Forest. Negotiations for access to that property had been at an impasse for years, and it seemed probable that the trail may never happen. With the development of the Loess Hills Missouri River Region Parks to People Plan, the idea of an Appalachian-trail type ridgetop hiking trail resurfaced.
Ignited with a new vigor, the Iowa DNR pursued the possibility of an easement on the property – this time with success! Harrison County Conservation Board and the Iowa DNR put in countless hours preparing the trail. Trail markers, rustic steel cut into the shape of bur oak leaves, were made by a local artisan in Woodbine and the costs were covered by a grant from the Dean J. King Family Foundation.
Brent’s Trail is located on the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway’s Fountainbleau Loop. Fountainbleau is the name of the cemetery where French-American fur trader Charles Larpenteur is buried. Brent’s Trail intentionally passes right by this cemetery. Murray Hill Scenic Overlook and Preparation Canyon Scenic Overlook are always highly recommended for those looking to get an iconic photo of the Loess Hills, and with the addition of Brent’s Trail visitors will be able to ‘get off the beaten path’ and further explore the unique landscape.
Brent's Trail is open to the public daily, year-round. Hikers should note that this is a rugged hike on dirt and grass surfaces. Water and restrooms are not available, so hikers should come prepared for a true backcountry experience unlike anything else in Iowa. The route is marked with metal oak leaf signs.