Readers of this column will recognize my reference to an “attractive couple” that has lived (at least part time) in my neighborhood for the past three years. The couple, actually a pair of bluebirds, have raised several families in a nest box in my backyard. We’ve been privileged to watch as a couple of those families of little ones left the nest to begin life on their own. We’ve also been privileged to witness a couple of the family’s return visits to the nest box late in the fall before wandering farther south for the winter. I’m particularly thankful that we were able to witness another fall visit of the bluebirds to their summer home on Thanksgiving morning. It’s pretty special to see “our bluebirds” once again after last seeing them in August. They were around for several hours as they checked out the house and the bird bath. I sincerely hope I’ll see them again in March or April and hope for another spring and summer of beauty that they’ll bring to our neighborhood.
Some favorite memories of my younger years with the conservation board at McFarland Park are some hikes my dad and I made from the park to the acreage where I grew up south of Story City. It is a distance of about five miles “as the crow flies,” but probably closer to six or seven “as the foot stumbles.” We walked trails and through woods that I first visited on walks with my parents as a small boy. It’s where I first learned the names of some of the area’s birds, wildflowers and trees. I’m particularly thankful that I lived at a time when the woods and pastures were quiet, except for bird songs and the wind in the leaves, before I-35 smothered the valley with its noise. Dad and I would reminisce about picnics, camping trips and hunts we had made over the years and ponder the rich history the valley held as we followed what had once been an old stagecoach road that connected the pioneer communities.
Dad and I walked again yesterday after our Thanksgiving dinner. It wasn’t quite the kind of walk we used to take, but it was special anyway. Dad is in his 90s now, and uses a wheeled walker on his longer walks away from the apartment where he and Mom live. I’m thankful that Story City, my old home town, has done and continues to do such a good job of making their lovely park land accessible even to people who are in wheelchairs or who have other mobility limitations. We walked on the beautiful new concrete path across the old swinging bridge, down by the dam and to a new shelter house that has thankfully preserved and incorporated the old stone wall and fireplace that was part of an earlier shelter built back in the 1930s by men with the WPA. We both have memories tied to the old “south park” and the nearby athletic fields.
Other communities and Story County are doing wonderful work to make their parks more fully accessible, too. McFarland Park and Ada Hayden Park north of Ames have fine paved paths around the lakes. Brookside Park in Ames offers a wonderful trail along Squaw Creek. Nevada’s SCORE Park and Greenbelt trails offer miles of easy walking. Hickory Grove Park, the Praeri Rail Trail and Heart of Iowa Trail also all offer easy walking on compacted aggregate surfaces, without steep hills. Handicap-accessible trails are just waiting for you and maybe someone else who needs an outing on a nice afternoon yet this fall. Some are kept clear of snow all winter. You owe it to yourself and maybe someone else to get out soon and enjoy some of these wonderful trail offerings. Memories are waiting to be made.
Steve Lekwa is a former director of Story County Conservation.