Discover the Forest
The ninth annual National Get Outdoors Day is Saturday, June 11. While those of you who garden – like me – likely spend a lot of time outdoors already, National Get Outdoors Day is a great excuse to get out of the garden and go explore the world – or at least your little corner of the world. So put on your walking shoes and sunscreen, grab a buddy – your dog, a family member, or a friend – and get ready to discover the forest.
Discover the Forest is a public service campaign created by the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council to get people back to nature. A particular focus of the campaign is children. Studies have shown that children who spend time outside have less stress, more imagination and stronger immune systems, are fitter and leaner, and are more likely to grow up to be environmentally conscious. But more and more Americans living in urban areas have fewer connections to nature. The Discover the Forest campaign is intended to highlight the natural areas and green spaces that exist wherever one may be.
The Discover the Forest website features an interactive map that makes it easy to find forests and parks located within just a short drive of your home. To find your “naturehood,” simply visit www.DiscovertheForest.org and filter by your zip code and desired activities. And when you are ready to visit the forest, the site offers downloadable games and activities to take with you. Want to learn how to use a compass? Or identity animal tracks? The Discover the Forest site has guides for that!
I take every opportunity I can get to explore my own naturehood, enjoying activities like hiking, biking, camping, and kayaking. Here are a few of my favorite places to reconnect with nature, all within a short drive of my home:
Coralville Lake is a man-made reservoir on the Iowa River above the Coralville Dam in Iowa City that is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Best known for its boat access, beaches, and camping, Coralville Lake also offers more than 20 miles of hiking trails and is one of my favorite places to hike in the area.
The Squire Point and Woodpecker trail system is a five mile network of trails that offers pretty views of the lake and its coves and, as the name suggests, plentiful sightings of red-headed woodpeckers nesting in the trees on Woodpecker Hill.
On the opposite side of the reservoir, the Cedar Valley Trail is a three mile out and back trail through the woods and ravines along the lake. The trail passes the Indian Cave, a 10,000-year-old Native American site where one may come across archeology students from the University of Iowa.
Hawkeye Wildlife Area
Located just up the Iowa River from the Coralville Reservoir and almost literally in my backyard (as Sarah Palin once said, I can see it from my house), the Hawkeye Wildlife Area offers nearly 14,000 acres of timber, upland, and marsh available for hunting and fishing. I don’t do either, but I love to kayak on the river here.
The 12.5 mile stretch from Highway 151 in the Amana Colonies to the Greencastle Bridge offers wooded river banks, long sand bars, and a variety of wildlife, including bald eagles, great blue herons, and migratory waterfowl. Below Greencastle Bridge, a cast iron structure that closed to vehicle traffic, the river spreads out into a wide flood basin offering multiple channels to explore.
F.W. Kent Park
My favorite place to camp is F.W. Kent Park in Tiffin, Iowa, which is managed by the Johnson County Conservation Department. In addition to a well-maintained campground with wooded, private sites, the park offers a picturesque 27-acre lake and miles of hiking trails through prairies, forests, and wetlands. Several historic country road bridges have been relocated to the park and are used throughout the trail system.
Now that you’ve seen mine, what are some of your favorite places to reconnect with nature in your naturehood? How do you plan to spend National Get Outdoors Day? Please share your thoughts and photos in the comments section below.
Counting My Chickens is participating in an unpaid group initiative with Homestead Bloggers Network, in connection with the Discover the Forest campaign, to promote the importance of getting outdoors with your family this weekend and all summer long. You can participate by sharing how you plan to reconnect with nature by posting on social media using the hashtag #discovertheforest.