It never ceases to amaze me how many people I encounter out in our parks that say something to the extent of, "Wow, I never knew this place was here!" Then they get super excited about exploring an area of their own community they hadn’t even known existed.

I’ve worked in Des Moines County’s parks for almost 15 years. I’m well aware of the neat spots out there and it’s easy to forget that not everyone else is.

So today, I’m going to share some “hidden gems” within Des Moines County’s park system that I wouldn’t expect a lot of people to know about but which are definitely visit-worthy.

Secret Fishing Spots

There are small little fishing ponds at a couple of our natural resource areas that have been renovated and restocked in the last several years and now offer good fishing opportunities. The first is at the Linder Conservation Area just off 170th Ave. southwest of Sperry. The second is at the Leopold Recreation Area just at the north edge of Burlington at the end of Mill Dam Road, northwest of the CNH plant.

Both ponds are stocked with bluegill, crappie, largemouth bass, and channel catfish. They’re a bit of hike to get to, but that’s part of the adventure, right?

Amazing Views

Des Moines County isn’t exactly known for its topography but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great scenic overlooks to enjoy. One of the best is in the northwest corner of Hickory Bend Conservation Area and accessible by the Flint River Trail. This hilltop location features a small shelter to sit in and take in the amazing view of the scenic Flint Creek valley below. The site is only accessible by hiking or biking a little over a half mile up the Flint River Trail from the parking area at the south end of Hickory Bend.

That said, one of the other great things about this spot is how remote it is. It sits nearly in the center of the county, miles from the nearest hard roads and highways. There is very little population in the area so human sounds are minimal, especially early and late in the days.

A second site is more well known but worth mentioning anyway. It’s the scenic overlook above Starr’s Cave Nature Center. There’s a little parking area just off Irish Ridge Road at this spot and the site is just inside the trees from the parking area. It offers views of the creek valley below and the forests of Starr’s Cave State Preserve beyond. It truly is one of the most magnificent sites in the county.

Quiet Trails

What’s better than a quiet hike through the woods? Trails at Hunt Woods just south of Burlington and Luckenbill Woods east of Mediapolis offer some of the best, quietest, nature-est woods walking you can ask for. Both parks are just over 50-acres in size and have seen minimal development. The trails are natural surface and wind through closed-canopy woodlands. Hike quiet and watch for the wildlife you’re almost certain to encounter.

Luckenbill has a pond near the end of one trail that almost always has waterfowl hanging out on it. The pond was built in 1999 by the National Guard. In 2009, at 6th grade class from Mediapolis conducted a quail habitat restoration project there and in so doing won the Disney Planet Challenge, earning all 60+ students a trip to Disneyland to be guests of honor for three days.

Hunt Woods is a forest management area that has seen numerous forest management activities and harvests over the years. The park also hosts a pioneer cemetery back in the woods. The Porter Cemetery has headstones dating back to the early 1800’s.

As summer winds down, take some time to get out and explore some of the hidden gems you might not have known exist. Bring a friend, a kid, or take some solo time. Just get out there and enjoy your county parks. You’ll be glad you did.

published Friday, August 11, 2023

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