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Des Moines County Parks Keep People Active All Year Round

David Hightower
Starr's Cave Park in Burlington, IA

On a cold day it might seem you don't have too many entertainment options. You could turn on the TV, curl up with a good book -- or maybe, put on your boots and hit the trail in one of your favorite county parks.

Several outdoors enthusiasts headed out for a recent "Owl Prowl" night hike at Big Hollow recreation area in Des Moines County recently. John McCormick of Burlington said he enjoys the comradery.

“A little cold doesn't hold me back,” he said.

McCormick, who said he's converted 7 acres of his personal land into a local preserve, said being around nature has always been a passion for him. "I got interested in birds and wildlife when I was five years old…and I just have been a lifelong nature lover."

Since last March indoor recreational activities have been limited, to say the least. That's driven some people to look for socially distanced activities outdoors.

Des Moines County Conservation Executive Director Chris Lee said the many parks in the county are the perfect place to get out of the house.

"That activity, and that fresh air, and being able to take your mask off and have a conversation with your friend and not have to worry about it because you're outside and you can be six feet apart and still feel close together because you're surrounded by 800 acres. That's worth a lot,” Lee said.

Lee said even through the coldest months of winter the trails in Des Moines County parks have been consistently hiked by nature lovers. He said many people are out collecting antler sheds from deer, which can be done in all Des Moines County parks except Starr's Cave, which is a state Nature Preserve.

Lee said the spring will bring lots to see for hikers, including a brief window in early spring when the ice melts in Southeast Iowa, but not in areas further north.

“And when that happens,man, there's thousands of ducks and geese that will stack up down here. I always love it when that happens,” Lee said.

As the weather slowly turns, and warmer days become the norm, Kelly Rundell, the Environmental Education Coordinator for Des Moines County Conservation, said she just hopes people can get out and enjoy the parks.

"Get out and use 'em, check out all of our trails,” Rundell said. “We've got a lot of parks that don't get used as much."

That's why Des Moines County Conservation came up with the "Hike-a-Park" program, which runs through May. Each week conservation officials will guide hikes through different county parks. You can find more information on that program, including where they'll be each week on the county website.

Lee said the parks in Des Moines County all have something different to offer.

"There's never a bad day to go outside. So whatever it is you're in the mood for, there's likely a park around that will scratch that itch for you,” Lee said.

John McCormick agreed with that sentiment.

"Illinois and Iowa have some of the prettiest parks, I think, in the country. And I like to get out there and just enjoy nature," McCormick said.

McCormick says he will be hiking the local trails as it warms up -- but he's also ready to get to some other activities --

"I even enjoy cave exploring… and Starr's Cave has a very interesting cave that's home to one of the rare, little brown bats," McCormick said.

If you're ready to explore a cave, hike a trail, or just relax in the woods -- there's around 1000 acres of public land in Des Moines County, and even on a cold day there's a lot to see.

This story was produced by Tri States Public Radio.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

David Hightower is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.