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Social distancing fun: Explore nature, history at these Eastern Iowa sites

Festivalgoers walk past the Birthplace Cottage at the Hoover National Historic Site during the 29019 Hoover's Hometown D
Festivalgoers walk past the Birthplace Cottage at the Hoover National Historic Site during the 29019 Hoover’s Hometown Days in West Branch. The two-room cottage, previously closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, is among the buildings that have recently reopened. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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With social media posters noting they’re getting two months to the gallon of gasoline, or filling up for the first time since their coronavirus quarantine kicked in, now is the time to top off the tank and put your bodies in motion. Eastern Iowans don’t have to drive far to find these opportunities for social distancing fun in the summer sun.

Hoover grounds

In addition to strolling the park grounds, trails, paths and the Tallgrass Prairie, visitors to the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch can again walk in the boyhood footsteps of the nation’s 31st president — the only U.S. president born in Iowa.

The Visitor Center, however, remains closed.

According to the park’s website, Hoover’s “Quaker family had helped settle the town, and their principles of honesty, hard work, simplicity and generosity guided Hoover throughout his life of service to the nation and the world.”

Among the buildings to explore are the two-room cottage where Hoover was born Aug. 10, 1874; the town’s 1853 schoolhouse; the 1857 Friends Meetinghouse; and a blacksmith shop reconstructed in 1957, based on the one Hoover’s father, Jesse Hoover, operated from 1871 to 1878. For more information, go to nps.gov/heho/planyourvisit/things2do.htm

“We are excited to increase access to the park while safeguarding the health and safety of our staff, visitors and community,” Park Superintendent Pete Swisher said in a prepared statement. “As we continue to navigate this uncertain time, we ask that you follow local and national guidelines to ensure your safety and that of others with whom you may come into contact during your visit.”

A return to full operations will continue to be phased in, and services may be limited. The public is advised to follow local area health orders, practice Leave No Trace principles, avoid crowding and avoid high-risk outdoor activities.

Details and updates on park operations will continue to be posted at nps.gov/heho and social media channels. The park’s mobile app also can help people plan their visit.

Updates about National Park Service operations will be posted on nps.gov/coronavirus

Jackson County

The Hurstville Interpretive Center, one mile north Maquoketa along Highway 61, beckons all ages to explore the great outdoors this summer, with free activities.

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For Youths: Each Monday morning in July, young people can find a new nature activity posted under the Environmental Education tab at Mycountyparks.com/county/jackson.aspx or at Facebook.com/HurstvilleInterpretiveCenter/

Activity sheets also will be available at the Hurstville Center, 18670 63rd St. Most of the items needed for the activities can be found around the house; if not, materials will be set out at 9 a.m. Monday in the outdoor classroom on the center’s south side.

For more information, call (563) 652-3783.

Kayaking & Marsh Exploration: Naturalists will be hosting kayaking on the marsh every Thursday in July from 1 to 4 p.m., and marsh explorations from 1 to 3 p.m. July 7 and 21.

Kayaks, life jackets, paddles and instruction will be provided on Thursdays. For the marsh explorations, participants can grab nets and buckets for finding frogs, crawdads, insects and more.

All ages are welcome, and registration is required at least 48 hours in advance, so start times can be staggered, and to help with social distancing practices.

Youths must be accompanied by an adult. All participants should wear shoes and clothes that can get wet, and bring a change of clothes, water bottle and sunscreen. Meet at the Hurstville Marsh, down the trail from the staff parking lot to the pergola, at your scheduled time.

For information or registration, call the conservation office at (563) 652-3783.

Wild Edible Hike: 6 p.m. July 6, Black Hawk Wildlife Area. A naturalist will lead this hike, and tell participants how to identify and forage the different edible plants in Jackson County.

All activities are outdoors, so dress for the weather and wear long pants, since some of the hike may go off-trail. Meet in the parking lot of the Black Hawk Wildlife Area, northernmost point of 138th Avenue, three miles west of Maquoketa off Highway 64.

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Register for this event at least 48 hours in advance. For details, call (563) 652-3783 or email Jen@JacksonCCB.com

• Tubing on Prairie Creek: 6 and 7 p.m. July 10, meet at the pavilion in Prairie Creek Recreation Area, 1215 E. Summit St., Maquoketa. A limited number of tubes will be available to borrow, and life jackets will be provided.

Start times are 6 and 7 p.m. so tubes can be staggered and to help with social distancing practices. Youths must be accompanied by an adult. Wear shoes and clothes that can get wet, and bring a change of clothes, water bottle and sunscreen.

Registration is required at least 48 hours in advance; call (563) 652-3783 or email Jen@JacksonCCB.com

• Buzzard Ridge Guided Hike: 6 p.m. July 13, Buzzard Ridge Wildlife Area parking lot, off 30th Avenue on the Buzzard Ridge Access Road at Monmouth.

This family-friendly 2.5 mile hike will take participants through the forest, prairies and bluffs of Buzzard Ridge, with a spectacular overlook of the Maquoketa River.

Registration is required by July 10 at (563) 652-3783. All youths must be accompanied by an adult, and everyone is asked to practice social distancing while attending.

• Codfish Hollow Prairie Walk: 6 p.m. July 7; rain date 6 p.m. July 8 at Codfish Hollow Prairie, northeast of Maquoketa. Go one mile north of Maquoketa on Highway 62, turn right (east) on 35th Street, turn left (north) on 288th Avenue, then travel 1/4 mile to the gate.

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Ray Hamilton and a county conservation naturalist will guide walkers through remnant and reconstructed prairie, sharing knowledge of prairie plants and native pollinators. This area has been managed as a local biological preserve for 34 years and is home to five-lined skinks, one of the world’s northern most population of original native purple coneflowers, prairie butterflies and more.

Dress for the weather, wear walking shoes and long pants, and practice social distancing while participating. Registration is required; call (563) 652-3783 or email tony@jacksonccb.com

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