Winter 2019 River Ramblings

The Mountains Are Calling, And We Must Go

Person backpackingDes Moines County Conservation is excited to announce that we will be leading a two-week backcountry wilderness program for area high school students this summer. The 1964 Wilderness Act defines wilderness as:

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain”.

The concept of wilderness is somewhat elusive for most Iowans. Iowa’s landscape is currently the most altered landscape in the nation. Historically, prairie once covered 75 to 80 percent of Iowa’s landscape. Now, less than 0.1 percent of that original prairie remains, scattered throughout small pockets across the state. Today there are 767 areas totaling over 110 million acres of lands declared and protected as wilderness in the US.  However, none of these areas are within Iowa.

In cooperation with the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA), Des Moines County Conservation is leading a two-week backpacking trip for area high school students to the South San Juan Wilderness in Colorado. The 127,000 acres in this federally designated wilderness area straddles the Continental Divide and offers stunning alpine tundra habitats, sweeping vistas, and solitude.

We are not in the tourism business. We are not offering this experience to provide travel for high school students to exotic, far off lands for an adrenaline-based thrill. We are offering this trip to give students experiences in nature they could never experience in Iowa and to stimulate their minds in what the world has to offer. Through this experience, we hope to alter the way our students conceive wildness and how they perceive their relationship to it. We hope this experience will be a watershed moment for each participant; it could even potentially change their life.

The four pillars of our trek:

Participants will work on a stewardship project designated by the Forest Service and SJMA. Projects may include trail maintenance, campsite rehabilitation, ecosystem monitoring and restoration.

Study Of Wilderness:
Through this trek, participants will form a personal definition for wilderness. After reading about the idea of wilderness, trek leaders will facilitate discussion on the philosophy, importance, and ideas of wilderness.

Environmental Science:
Trek leaders will stop for trail-side lessons whenever the opportunity comes up. These mini lessons may cover aquatic biology, tree/flower identification, fire ecology, and more.

Outdoor Skills:
Leave No Trace, campsite set-up, back-country cooking, water filtration, and sustainable camping skills will be gained.

Trek details:

Who Can Attend?
Iowa high school students above freshman year who meet application guidelines. No camping or backpacking experience needed.

When Is The Trip?
July 9th-19th, 2019

Where Is It?
The South San Juan Wilderness is located near Pagosa Springs along the Continental Divide in southwest Colorado.

Is It Safe?
Trip leaders are highly experienced and trained in advanced wilderness first aid. Radios will be used for daily communication with Forest Service officials.

What Is The Cost?
$300, which includes supplies (such as sleeping bags, tents, backpacks), transportation, and camp food. Scholarship applications are available for students with financial need.

How Do I Apply?
Students must complete application process by April 19. Demonstrated effort spent on application highly valued. For details, email Kent Rector or call 319-753-5808.

Trek Timeline: 

Thursday, March 28, 6:30 PM:
Parent and Student informational session at Starr’s Cave Nature Center. This will include a trek presentation followed by time for questions.

Friday, April 19:
Application and letter of support due. To request an application, email Kent Rector or call SCNC at 319-753-5808.

April 26:
DMCC will make its final selection of applicants.

June 5, 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM:
Mandatory orientation session including team building, gear fitting, and backpacking skills training.

June 27 - 28:
Overnight group pre-hike to test backpacks and boots. Chance to get one night out camping before the big trip.

July 8, 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM:
Mandatory gear shakedown. Trek leaders will go through packs as a group, distribute DMCC gear such as tents, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, etc., and teach students how to properly pack up and distribute their gear. A short hike with fully loaded packs will follow. Loaded packs will be left with trek leaders at the end for loading.

July 9 - 19:
Two-week trip into the South San Juan Wilderness!

Park spotlight: hunt woods

Hunt Woods SignHunt Woods is a 58 acre forest located near Burlington’s southwestern corner, along 65th St. It is a timber and woodland management demonstration area, designed to show landowners how to manage their own property in an environmentally responsible manner. There have been regular timber management practices applied to the area including harvests, timber stand improvement, prescribed burning, and the planting of thousands of seedlings. The main entrance along 65th St. features a picnic shelter, restroom and access to multiple trails as well as a memorial bench placed in memory of David Garrels. 


History buffs are attracted to the one acre Porter Cemetery with headstones dating back to the early 1800’s found at the property's western edge. In the early 1800’s, C.W Hunt purchased this area from EP. Rand. Samuel B. Hunt then purchased this property from C.W Hunt. In 1967, the heirs of the WE Hunt Estate contacted the DMCC to see if they were interested in purchasing 58 acres of heavily wooded timber situated in Union Township.

In 1968, the Board purchased this 58 acres for $8,400. A 50/50 cost share was received from the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR) for this acquisition. This area was opened for public use in spring of 1969.

timber management

The original Timber Management Plan was developed in 1984 and updated 2009. An intensive treatment schedule, along with plans for timber sales, was instituted to insure that this predominately oak timber survives for generations to come. A timber sale was held in 1985 with 258 trees plus 52 pulp trees and 35 cull trees harvested. In 1992-93, a second sale was held for the cutting of 235 saw trees plus pulp and cull trees. Timber stand improvement work (TSI) along with the planting for thousands of hardwood seedlings has occurred in the area since the early 1980’s. A third timber sale was held in the spring of 2017 with 116 saw trees identified for removal. These trees are in the process of being removed now.

Hunt Woods Field Day 2Training

Hunt woods has also been used at a training ground to show landowners the effects of active timber management. Topics covered typically  included: controlling invasive species with controlled fire, shelter-wood harvesting and forest pollinators. 

Main Hunt Woods Page


Volunteering: Another Natural Wonder Drug

What if I told you there was something you could do that would make you healthier, happier, more attractive, more employable, and longer lived? And what if I said you could have a lot of fun and get a lot of fulfillment out of doing it? 

Would you do it?

The activity I’m referring to is volunteering and there’s a growing body of research that indicates it is beneficial in a ton of ways. Our Director recently wrote about it in his Living Land column in The Hawk Eye. You can find the full article on his blog. 

Sign up to Volunteer