Recreation

Take a walk ... on the wilder side

Nature trails are a great place to find solace and (social) distance

People walk along the Sac and Fox Trail near Prairie Park Fishery in Cedar Rapids (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
People walk along the Sac and Fox Trail near Prairie Park Fishery in Cedar Rapids (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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Hitting a trail is a surefire cure for the cabin fever.

It’s no wonder trails are seeing heavy use during this era of coronavirus. Trails’ users often cheerfully wave as they pass others at a respectful six- or eight-foot distance.

It’s fortunate an abundance of trails suitable for diverse uses are in the Cedar Rapids/Marion area. All provide opportunities for exercise and access to nature’s therapeutic gifts.

Spring is one of the best seasons to enjoy a trail. Already early migrating birds like sapsuckers, chipping sparrows and even a few thrushes arrive. But, the peak of bird abundance will be around the first week of May. Wildflowers are also coming into full bloom. Snow trilliums and spring beauties unfurled blossoms in late March with many more species coming as April progresses into May.

The best source for trail information is the Linn County Trails Association at www.linncountytrails.org.

Here are a few of our favorites:

PAVED TRAILS

Paved trails are 10 or 12 feet wide and usually fairly level. They always are pleasant to walk and also are fine for bicycles, roller blades, skateboards, baby strollers and even wheelchairs. Paved trails make for a fine walking surface when recent rains have made unpaved ones muddy.

— The Prairie Park Fishery Trail is a 1.7-mile circuit around an attractive lake. Access is off Otis Road. Parking is plentiful. A connector trail leads to the Sac and Fox Trail.

— The Cedar Lake Trail also is 1.7 miles long. Parts of it are closed this year due to construction. The trail has connectors to the Cedar Valley Nature Trail to the north and downtown Cedar Rapids south.

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— The Cedar Valley Nature Trail is paved on the southern section and has a lime chip surface further north. It can be accessed from Hiawatha, Robins and other trailheads to the north.

— The Grant Wood Trail is paved from Marion east to about Waldo’s Rock Park and lime chipped for two more miles.

— Waldo’s Rock in Marion and next to the Grant Wood Trail is a sweet paved trail with benches around it. It’s just right for toddlers’ short legs or those who want to be outside, watch the water and be still for a bit. The trail is a circuit around a pleasant pond with a towering rock at the water’s edge.

— The CEMAR Trail extends from about Arthur School through the Mount Mercy University athletic fields on the northeast side of Cedar Rapids.

LIME CHIP TRAILS

Lime chip trails are wide. They are soft and muddy after rainstorms, so it is best to give a few days before walking or riding on them. Once they dry out, they have a solid, although often bumpy, surface.

— The Sac and Fox is Iowa’s first National Recreation Trail. It’s a 7.2-milelong ribbon from East Post Road down Indian Creek to Indian Creek Nature Center and then west along the Cedar River to Prairie Park Fishery. Trailheads are at Cole Street, the Nature Center, Bertram Road, Rosedale Road and off East Post Road by the hilarious and seasonally dressed frog statue. The stretch of trail along Indian Creek may be the most scenic trail in the area. A single-track dirt surfaced bicycle trail parallels the Sac and Fox between the Nature Center and Cole Street.

— Thomas Park Trails mostly follow Indian Creek in Marion.

GRASS/DIRT FOOTPATHS

Some of our favorite trails are narrow winding footpaths that offer opportunity for exercise, solitude and be enveloped in nature. They are best for spotting wildlife and wildflowers.

— Squaw Creek Park’s trails loop through marshes, woods and grasslands.

— Cedar Greenbelt National Recreation Trail is accessed at the Indian Creek Nature Center and is a series of loops in forests and prairies.

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— Cool Hollow Trail at Palisades Kepler State park is a steep walk down into a wooded valley where it then splits. One fork goes to the Cedar River and the other to the campground.

— Ennis Preserve loop trail offers river views.

— Faulkes Heritage Woods has a short loop trail through enormous trees. It is accessed off Tama Street just north of 30th Street Drive SE.

— Marcy Mattison shares information about her favorite haunt: Morgan Creek Park. Trails circle a prairie and duck into woodlands. They wander through an arboretum that includes labeled specimens, a rain garden and a butterfly garden. Visitors also can follow wide, mowed trails through meadow, woodland and prairie. On the eastern side, ungroomed and groomed trails cross hilly forest land. Morgan Creek meanders throughout, marked by tall cottonwoods and catalpa groves, oxbows and bridges over both quiet water and tumbling rapids.

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Many more trails are in the area, including short ones around schools. Sidewalks are urban trails that lead walkers through neighborhoods and downtowns.

Trails always are great places to walk, bike, roller skate or push a stroller or wheelchair. In this era of coronavirus seclusion, they offer a fun and safe outdoor adventure.

Being active is healthy. Remember to keep pets on leashes, respect physical distance, call out “on your left” and give people time to move over when overtaking others on the trail or path. Above all, do what you can to ground, center and appreciate time outside to boost your immune system as you notice the emerging spring around you.

Marion Patterson is an instructor at Kirkwood Community College. Rich Patterson is the former executive director of Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids. They blog at windingpathways.com.

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