These words were penned by Burlington native Aldo Leopold in the opening paragraph to his seminal book, A Sand County Almanac. As we conclude the week dedicated to honoring the legacy of "the father of wildlife management," it seemed fitting to lead off with one of his quotes. 

We here in the Burlington area are lucky to live in the place where Aldo Leopold first began developing the "land ethic" that so many in the conservation community know him for. But we're unlikely to see geese or any pasque-flowers from home. So here's your guide to getting outside this month and beyond. 

First, check the weather. The simultaneously fun and frustrating thing about March and early April here in the Midwest is that whatever the weather is today, it'll probably be something different tomorrow. Don't even bother planning next weekend's activities around today's forecast. It's going to change anyway. Look at the forecast for the next four to eight hours, dress accordingly, and get outside. Your local parks await. 

Have binoculars? Bring them. The number of birds you can encounter out there is increasing by the day. Deer and other animals are moving more. There’s a lot to see out there, if you’re out there to see it.

Have a smartphone (who doesn't?), bring it. But shut the ringer off. You're brining it as a tool for your outdoor meanderings, not as a distraction therefrom. Download the Seek app and use it to identify things you find in nature. Bugs, trees, even pasque-flowers and geese. Snap pictures of the stuff you want to remember. Phone cameras these days take better pictures than my first Nikon. 

I like to use the excuse of shed hunting to justify long walks in the woods with no apparent destination. Most deer will have shed their antlers by now and they're just laying out there somewhere waiting to be found. Plus, not having a destination gives you the ability to see details you miss when you're focused on getting somewhere specific. You can just be there, which is liberating. 

And let’s not forget we’re only a month or so from morel mushroom season. If that’s not an excuse for you to wander the woods, our society has failed you. 

Some nearby favorite parks for short afternoon family trail hikes through natural areas include Hunt Woods, Starr's Cave, Big Hollow, Crapo Park, and Lake Geode. All of those have extensive trail systems through wooded areas where you can really immerse yourself in nature. 

But please note, you cannot pick mushrooms (or anything, for that matter) at Starr’s Cave. It’s a state preserve. Take only pictures, leave only footprints. 

There are several undeveloped (meaning: no trails) wildlife areas around that make for great spots to mushroom and shed hunt, but it's worth noting that turkey season starts in April and runs through most of May, so be cognizant that you may be sharing the woods with hunters. It's less of a safety issue - hunters are very good at distinguishing a wild turkey from a person - than it is a wreck-someone's-hunt issue. Many hunters may only have two or three days to hunt in any given season. Please share the woods accordingly. 

There are several programs scheduled this month and next. Des Moines County Conservation’s Hike-a-Park programs are naturalist-led hikes through the area's best parks and wildlife areas. This year's first hike is at Starr's Cave Park and Preserve on the north edge of Burlington on Thursday, March 16 starting at 3:00 PM. The next one is March 30 at Luckenbill Woods east of Mediapolis. April 13 is a hike at Shimek State Forest down by Donnellson, and April 27 is at Hunt Woods, just south of Burlington. 

For those that want to get outside with a purpose, join Des Moines County Conservation at Starr's Cave on Saturday, March 25 at 10:00 AM for a volunteer invasive species removal day. Invasive species have spread across large sections of forest in the preserve and much of it can only be controlled by manual labor. Gather friends, family, and raid the garage for loppers, snips, bow saws, and machetes and join the fun cutting bush honeysuckle and oriental bittersweet. 

Trade the brush cutting tools for work gloves and trash pickers and join hundreds of your neighbors for the Annual Keep Burlington Beautiful Earth Day Cleanup on April 22 starting at 8:00 AM at the Port of Burlington. Our alleys and right of ways need a good spring cleaning so here's your opportunity to shine up the town while the trees bloom. Oh, and let's not forget the free lunch afterward. 

Lastly, the unofficial opening of Des Moines County's campgrounds falls on April first every year. If mother nature is cooperative and temps stay consistently above freezing, many people will be venturing out with their campers for the year's inaugural campout. There's little risk of campgrounds filling to capacity that early, but it's never a bad idea to make a reservation ahead of time. If nothing else, a reservation is a commitment. It's harder to stay home on the couch if you've pre-paid for a campsite for the weekend. 

Besides, a lawn chair by a campfire is a much better place to lounge out, anyway. 

published Friday, March 10, 2023

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