Lekwa: Winter walk opportunities

Steve Lekwa

My wife, Sue, and I have enjoyed taking walks for many years. Our goals in walking sometimes differ, though. Sue likes to set a pace and keep to it for the exercise benefit. I, on the other hand, often get distracted. That’s especially true when we walk in wilder areas, but it even happens on sidewalk excursions around the neighborhood. There are flowers to see or smell, landscapes to admire, finding the source of a bird song, etc. It breaks up my pace and often leaves me hurrying to catch up. Mostly gone are the days when “a walk” might take hours and cover several miles, but we still enjoy walking when we can despite our different priorities.

The unseasonably warm weather of late December and early January has been pleasant for walking, but frequent freezing and thawing has left many unpaved trails soft and muddy. Add in the rainfall we’ve seen in the past month, and some trails have become a slippery mess. Traffic on unpaved trails during conditions like we’ve been experiencing often leaves a significant amount of damage to trail surfaces, as well.

I don’t mind cleaning mud off of my shoes, but I hate to damage trail surfaces. I recommend staying off of unpaved trails when conditions are soft and mushy in order to avoid the excessive damage it can cause. There are always neighborhood sidewalks if all you want is outdoor exercise. Those get almost as boring as walking on a treadmill, though, for some of us that prefer less developed settings. Thankfully, there are a number of good paved walking options around the county that wander well away from the roads next to lakes, streams and through some lovely woods.

The city of Ames offers some great paved walking options that are kept snow free when winter conditions return. The miles of paved trail at Ada Hayden Park on the north side of Ames offer opportunities to enjoy reconstructed prairie, thousands wintering waterfowl, eagles and other wildlife. Over 60 trumpeter swans were seen there during the Audubon Christmas Bird Count a few weeks ago. A wonderful trail wanders along the banks of Squaw Creek through riparian woodland. It’s accessible from Stuart Smith Park and Brookside Park just east of the ISU campus. Yet another paved trail segment heads up the west side of the Skunk River from River Valley Park. A good place to start is next to the foot bridge at the old Carr’s Pool site. A new trail will soon be ready for use in the developing Tedesco Environmental Learning Corridor west of the Ames Airport.

The city of Nevada keeps its Indian Creek Greenbelt Trail and SCORE Park trails open and ready for use all year long. The only time the greenbelt trail is closed is when it’s covered by flood water. That trail is accessible from several sites including the 4H Fairground, South 8th Street, a parking lot on 11th Street and from SCORE Park. Starting at one point and looping back can give you several miles of walking through riparian woodland along a stream bank, prairie and park settings.

Story City maintains a similar trail system along the Skunk River beginning near the historic swinging bridge at their South Park. A portion of the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail through Huxley is paved, as is a short section of the same trail near Maxwell’s East Park. Last, but far from least in my heart, is the area’s first paved walking trail, the Touch-a-life Trail around McFarland Lake. I helped build the first segments of that trail over 40 years ago, and I can’t walk it without remembering the great people, conservation staff and Kiwanis volunteers, who made it possible.

Some of us will head off-road on snowshoes or skis if winter ever returns, but for now I’m glad we have such great all-weather walking opportunities scattered around the county!

Steve Lekwa is the former director of Story County Conservation. Contact him at