The Scarlet & Black

The Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Celebrate 100 years of National Parks

Contributed photo
Contributed photo
Contributed photo

By Merlin Mathews

The National Park Service (NPS) celebrated its centennial on Aug. 25. Established during President Woodrow Wilson’s term by the National Park Service Organic act, the NPS’ stated goal is to preserve sites both natural and manmade for the enjoyment and education of future generations.

In keeping with its founding philosophy, the NPS chose to celebrate a hundred years of service by looking ahead to the next hundred years. A major focus of the centennial celebration is encouraging people to explore the national and state parks in their area.

While Iowa doesn’t have any national parks – though it is home to a national monument, a national historic site and two national historic trails – it isn’t lacking for state parks. From Ledges State Park to Maquoketa Caves State Park, there’s a wide range of fascinating landscapes to explore.

The closest state park is Rock Creek, which features 100 camping sites, miles of multi-use trails and an enormous reservoir that can be used for canoeing, sailing and fishing. Rock Creek is a popular destination both for Iowans in general and for outings hosted by the Grinnell Outdoor Recreation Program (GORP.)

During the first two weekends of this semester, GORP took interested students out to Rock Creek for introductory canoe training. David Zeiss, the faculty director of GORP, says that around 50 or 60 students show up per weekend. GORP runs canoeing trips throughout the school year, and Rock Creek is a common destination.

Zeiss also anticipates several biking trips in Rock Creek this year. “The trail out there is real nice – it keeps people off the road, so that’s a nice safety feature,” he said.

GORP used to offer sailing trips at Rock Creek, but have transitioned to offering biking trips instead due to the relative shortness of sailing season, a lack of student interest and the high cost of sailing equipment.

One of the longer canoeing trips offered several times a year by GORP ends at Palisades-Kepler State Park, near Cedar Rapids. Palisades-Kepler frames the Cedar River, and in addition to being an excellent canoeing destination, also features hiking trails which Zeiss recommends, and river bluffs, which he says are “neat to see.”

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resource’s page on Kepler-Palisades, visitors to the park can also expect to see a wide range of flora and fauna, including songbirds, wild turkeys and innumerable wildflowers.

Maquoketa State Park has hosted the occasional GORP spelunking expedition. Maquoketa contains the most caves of any Iowa state park, from the massive Dancehall Cave to the aptly-named Dugout Cave. The park is also home to both aboveground and underground limestone formations and trails, a restored prairie and an experimental oak savanna restoration. For people who are interested in the park but unable to withstand the challenges presented by caving, the Interpretive Center offers a video tour of the park.

While traveling with GORP gives you the benefit of experienced guides, if you prefer exploring on your own or in smaller groups, GORP also rents a variety of outdoor equipment for individual excursions to members. Each member can check out enough equipment – canoes, tents and sleeping bags, among others – for up to two people. The membership fee is $20 for the whole academic year.

As for when to plan your trip, those of us who have seen several seasons in Grinnell can testify that there’s a huge difference in climate between summer and winter. On some winter days, leaving the warmth of the indoors can seem a terrifying task. especially in Iowa. But Zeiss maintains that there’s no one season that’s best for visiting the state parks, especially with winters becoming milder..

“Obviously winter can get pretty cold,” Zeiss said. “[It’s] easy to get in a mode where it’s winter, we can’t go outside and do anything. But I think the reality is we get a lot of weather that’s reasonable for walking and hiking in the winter. You gotta kind of play it by ear – which makes it harder for us to plan trips – but I think on an individual basis, watch for that nice weekend and get out and do something.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *