Dallas County Conservation Board offers variety of winter programs

Becky Carlyle
Correspondent

To fulfill people’s needs for exploring, maintain a sense of adventure, learn new skills and stay active during the winter months, the Dallas County Conservation Board (DCCB) has different programs available.

Sarah Gilchrist, Outreach Coordinator with DCCB, shared their current offerings and also a glimpse into a future initiative.

“The winter programs will run through March or April, whenever spring decides to come to Dallas County this year!” Gilchrist said. “For environmental education, the naturalists offer numerous winter programming.”

Cross-country skiing

Cross country skiers enjoy the “If it Snows, We Ski” program at Voas Nature Center.

DCCB’s cross-country (XC) skiing programming will continue to operate utilizing pre-pandemic registration protocols. When it snows, XC skiing is available on the trails at Voas Nature Area. 

“Participants can rent XC skis, poles and boots, Gilchrist said. “Following a brief tutorial on XC skiing techniques, you will be set to sally forth on the snow-covered trails.”

To be notified of programming and to receive an invitation to ski, call DCCB at 515-465-3577 or email conservation@dallascountyiowa.gov to be put on the XC skiing list. There is a $3 rental fee per person for the skis.

Owls – Meet Strix

Strix, a barred owl, during a past "A Conversation with an Owl" program presented by Dallas County Conservation Board.

Strix is a barred owl who was rehabilitated from an injured wing, but is unable to be returned to the wild. This naturalist-led conversation will bring participants face-to-face with Strix. 

“She [Strix] is DCCB’s best teacher on the subject of owls,” Gilchrist said. 

The common owl species of Dallas County will be identified and their adaptations to nighttime hunting will be explored. Signature owl calls will also be studied.

The owl prowl hike will take place in the evening on the trails of Hanging Rock. Participants will try to communicate with a local barred owl.

Stargazing

“The winter skies provide us with some of the best stargazing opportunities of the year,” Gilchrist said.

Participants will join a naturalist at Kuehn Conservation Area to locate and identify the major winter constellations. They will have discussions and explore, not only the astronomical science of the constellations, but also the stories attached to these star patterns.

“As we explore the wonders of the night skies, we will encourage you to be reminded of the wonders here in the wilds of Dallas County,” Gilchrist said.

Birds

This naturalist-led program will teach basic bird identification skills. Participants will follow a path of instructional signs on the trails at Kuehn Conservation Area that will introduce the parameters of shape, size, and field marks used by birders for identification. 

“Birdwatching exploded during the pandemic,” Gilchrist said. However, many people struggle with identification.”

The program will include a visit to Kuehn’s bird viewing blind, providing an opportunity to test newly learned skills. Binoculars and field guides are encouraged but not required.

Survival shelters

A participant in the Building a Survival Shelter winter program creates a quinzhee.

“One of DCCB’s most popular fall programs was the building of a survival shelter in the autumn woods at Kuehn Conservation Area,” Gilchrist said. 

This fall program will be a winter’s twist on this theme as it engages participants in building a quinzhee, or snow shelter. Gilchrist encourages people to extend their survival skills to meet the challenges of the winter.

Finding Your Way with GPS

Gilchrist shared this program invites participants to get off-trail, explore the hidden gems and rarely-visited treasures of Kuehn Conservation Area. A naturalist will supply a Garmin eTrex 10 GPS unit, a topographic map of Kuehn with waystations marked and a tutorial on GPS usage. 

“Armed with this tool kit, participants will utilize their new orienteering skills to seek out the 10 waystations laid out on Kuehn’s landscape,” Gilchrist said. “Come to know the nearly 1,000 acres of wilds at Kuehn.”

She encourages people to bring a sense of adventure, water, snacks and to dress to hike in the wild.

A new initiative for 2021

The Big Trees of Dallas County initiative was created to locate and honor the largest individual specimen of each native tree species in Dallas County. DCCB wants to enhance the public’s awareness and ability to identify native trees and recognize their ecological importance. 

“The hunt for the biggest trees will incentivize people to explore, enjoy and better know our wild places,” Gilchrist said.

A nomination form can be found on DCCB’s website. Assistance for measuring and identifying trees is available by emailing chris.adkins@dallascountyiowa.gov.

Educational outreach

Besides offering programs to the general public, naturalists still continue their educational outreach to Dallas County. Early childhood programs with naturalist, ‘Critter Cindy’ Blobaum, are now delivered via Zoom. Naturalist, Mike Havlik, gives presentations outside with Strix the Owl at nursing homes and classrooms. Students and residents observe through the windows.

“The passion each naturalist has for each particular subject is clearly evident to all that experience the programs at DCCB!” Gilchrist said.

Signing up for programs

COVID-19 impacted DCCB's typical winter programming calendar of events. Visit DCCB's website to find more information about the various programs and to register.

Residents can also sign up for the weekly eNews on the website, which Gilchrist said will "give the most up-to-date information delivered straight to their email inbox." To sign up for the quarterly newsletter, email conservation@dallascountyiowa.gov. 

For more information, follow Dallas County Conservation Board on Facebook.

Other things to note 

The Raccoon River Valley Trail is open for winter activities like dog walking, riding fat tire bikes and snowmobiling. In an effort to keep the cost of permits low and convenient, trail users can now buy 2021 trail permits online at the DCCB website.

Forest Park Museum and Arboretum in Perry is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for an indoor activity option. Admission is free.