Picture this: It’s sunny, above 20 degrees, and there’s not a cloud in sight. You have the whole day free, and you’ve finished binging on Netflix. It’s time to take to the trails, and get outdoors. But before you grab your kids, your bike, your dog and your friends, think about this: How is it possible that you get to go outside and enjoy all that Iowa’s landscape has to offer and not pay a single cent?
Making it happen
The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, a conservation nonprofit with an office downtown Des Moines, works hard to preserve, restore and conserve land in Iowa. They achieve this goal through partnering with other organizations or agencies, like the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and working with landowners to unravel the best ways to make the most out of their property. They also work to acquire property and raise money for trail construction.
Kerri Sorrell, a Drake grad and INHF’s communications specialist, views the nonprofit’s mission as an important one to wildlife, the environment and the people who depend on it to survive and thrive.
“We work to protect land and to create natural experiences for Iowans, and to provide space for outdoor recreation,” Sorrell said. “INHF’s mission is all about connecting people to nature.”
To achieve this goal, INHF works to make land accessible to the public for hunting, fishing and hiking, among other activities.
“We do it for habitat, we do it for the environment but we also serve Iowans looking to get outside, looking to discover new places,” Sorrell said. “And because there are limited opportunities to do that in Iowa, looking to create those spaces where people can be outside is so important.”
And what better way to clear the mind than a walk through nature?
One of their most popular projects, the High Trestle Trail, is just a half hour from Des Moines in Boone County. The trail includes a half-mile bridge over the Des Moines River Valley, and was converted from a railroad in the early 2000s. At night, the slanting beams above the bridge glow a neon blue, casting a bright glow onto travelers below. You can bike, hike or run the trail year round, but the chance to look out at the lush valley during the spring or summer, and especially when the leaves change color in the fall, makes these seasons ideal for trekking the trail. From start to finish, the trail is 25 miles long, but you can park at different spots and take a shorter journey as well.
The Chichaqua Valley Trail is another serene trail near Des Moines. The trail stretches from Polk to Jasper County – over 20 miles in total. It also features bridges dating back to the 1880s, when the land was used as a rail line. Along this trek, take a detour to the Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt and spend a while relaxing, birdwatching and enjoying all the wildlife area has to offer.
What can I do?
If you want to support INHF in its conservation and preservation practices, visit their website for information on donating and volunteering. And if you want to enjoy all the work they do to make trails beautiful and accessible, just get outdoors.