Unusually warm weather greets hikers on New Year's Day trek through Solon's nature preserve

Hike was one of many 'First Day Hikes' around the state

Sam Turnbull (from right) of Iowa City, Cady Grimes, 6, Jack Grimes, 8, and Joe Kapp walk along a path during a New Year
Sam Turnbull (from right) of Iowa City, Cady Grimes, 6, Jack Grimes, 8, and Joe Kapp walk along a path during a New Year’s Day hike at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve in Solon. on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. Bur Oak Land Trust, which owns the property, offered guided tours, a bonfire and cocoa in addition to a nature scavenger hunt for kids. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

SOLON — Sun and temperatures in the upper 40s drew nearly 150 people to the leaf-strewn trails of the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve on Wednesday for a New Year’s Day hike.

“We had no idea if it would be five people or 500 people,” said Jason Taylor, executive director of the Bur Oak Land Trust, which organized the hike. The nonprofit organization posted the event to Facebook, where more than 300 people said they were interested.

The trust, founded in 1978 in Johnson County, accepts land donations from people who want their natural areas to be held in the public trust and available for public use. The trust maintains and preserves 11 natural areas, including the Turkey Creek preserve, which is 107 acres of woods and former pasture that includes a meandering stretch of Turkey Creek.

Several children had to change into dry socks or pants after Wednesday’s hike because the creek, with oxbows and fallen trees bridging banks, was too tempting. Dogs ran through the brush, and a few adults discussed which routes through the preserve might be good for future trail runs.

John Martinek, 51, of Coralville, played with his son, Emmett, 5, and took pictures as inspiration for paintings. His works of ink on claybord panels often feature nature. Without leaves on the trees, treasures such as fallen logs and limestone outcroppings are more visible in the winter.

“Every season has its own unique features,” Martinek said.

Several AmeriCorps workers gave tours and were stationed along the trail to talk about the landscape.

Kate Reilly, of Iowa City, pointed out the work she and fellow workers will do to remove small trees to give larger oaks and hickories more sunlight. Sarah Lawinger, of Aurora, Ill., said she’s excited to help with her first prairie burn and get training on proper pesticide use and chain saw work.


“My favorite it definitely plant identification,” said the University of Iowa student, who will graduate in May. “I took Latin in college, so I’m working to memorize all the names.”

The land that became the Turkey Creek preserve was donated to the Bur Oak Land Trust in 1981 by Webster and Gloria Gelman, John Greenleaf and Barbara Greenleaf Buckley, Gerald and Sarah Howe, and Mauricio and Emilia Lasansky.

Naturalists have spotted the endangered rusty patched bumblebee at the preserve in recent years, launching efforts to protect habitat for the pollinator. The bee is named for the rusty red patch on the backs of worker bees and male bees, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Forty-nine Iowa state parks also offered First Day Hikes on Wednesday, kicking off the state park systems’ 100-year celebration in 2020. Local hikes or trail runs were held at Lake Macbride State Park, Palisades-Kepler State Park and the Pleasant Creek State Recreation Area.

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