Posts Tagged: hiking

Neste Valley Recreational Area

Fulfilling a Vision: Winneshiek County Conservation Announces New Bike Trail and Park Initiative


Imagine a trail that will connect the Trout Run Trail to the Prairie Farmer Recreational Trail, creating a 43-mile trail system and linking four towns. Picture an idyllic heritage farm nestled along the banks of Dry Run Creek, made available for public use and enjoyment in the form of the newest county park.

Both of these visions are now one step closer to reality, as the Winneshiek County Conservation Board has initiated projects linking the Trout Run and Prairie Farmer trails and developing a new county park. Land recently purchased on behalf of the Conservation Board will become Neste Valley Recreational Area, a 170-acre park southwest of Decorah. Neste Valley will eventually serve as a mid-way trailhead on Dry Run Trail, an 8-mile trail link that will run parallel to Highway 52 between Decorah and Calmar.

Neste Valley Recreation Area
Neste Valley Recreation Area will sit just 2.5 trail miles from Decorah and will offer numerous outdoor recreation opportunities. Though no plans have been finalized, the Conservation Board envisions the park offering picnicking, camping, cabins, interpretive and hiking trails, a conservation education center, and programming.

NesteValley“Neste Valley will bring so much to Winneshiek County, for residents and visitors alike” says Barb Schroeder, director of the Conservation Board. “It will offer great outdoor recreation opportunities, provide a new destination for bikers, help meet the need for more camping in the county, and serve as a wildlife sanctuary as natural habitats become more and more scarce.”

The farm that makes up Neste Valley was one of the first Norwegian settlements in Winneshiek County and still features many of its original outbuildings and the remnants of the historic log home, which was transported to a museum in Norway in 2005 to serve as an example of a typical Norwegian settlement home in Iowa. More than 70 acres of the park are covered with mature native woodlands and remnant oak savanna, and a mile of Dry Run Creek winds through the property. Restoration work on the land has already begun to help renovate and restore the prairies, wetlands, and woodlands on the property, and local wildlife groups and volunteers, including Pheasants Forever, have pledged their future assistance.

“This will be the first new land purchased for a park by the Conservation Board in 21 years,” says Schroeder. “We are excited to be able to protect this property and to make it available for public use, particularly since it will be so accessible from the Trout Run Trail.”

Neste Valley Recreation Area was purchased by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, which will transfer ownership to the Conservation Board once all funds are raised.

Former property owners, Ingrid Neste, Mary Neste, and Michele Stefanick, collaborated with the Conservation Board and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation to help make the sale possible, donating a portion of the value of the farm. They were honored for their partnership at the 2013 Gift to Iowa’s Future Day at the state capital, a day designated to celebrate and honor those individuals, corporations, and organizations that have helped permanently protect land for parks, trails, and natural areas in Iowa.

The idea for a park at Neste Valley was first proposed by Ingrid Neste, when she approached the Conservation Board and expressed her desire for continued care and conservation of the family farm and the development of a trail on the railbed that would allow public access and promote outdoor recreation. Paul Neste, late husband of Ingrid Neste, implemented organic farming and rotational grazing practices on the farm until his death.

“Without the forethought and generosity of the Neste family, this land would not have been conserved,” says Schroeder. “Their dedication to protecting our natural resources cannot be overstated.”

Dry Run Trail: A Long-Awaited Link
“Since before the Trout Run Trail was even completed, people have been asking when it will connect to the Prairie Farmer Trail,” says Schroeder. “We are thrilled that this project is finally getting started.”

The proposed route for Dry Run Trail will leave Decorah near the intersection of highways 9 and 52, following the historic path of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific railroad corridor south until it meets the Prairie Farmer Trail near Conover. The linked trails will create more than 40 miles of connected trails linking Cresco, Ridgeway, Calmar, and Decorah.

The trail will lead riders on a unique rural adventure along a riparian corridor, past limestone outcroppings, and through rolling pastures and oak savannahs. Dry Run Trail will connect the level grade, native prairies, and farm views of the Prairie Farmer Trail with the hills, streams, and overlooks of the Trout Run Trail. Neste Valley Recreation Area will be just 2.5 trail miles from Decorah, providing an easily accessible picnic, camping, and educational destination for trail users.

“Dry Run Trail is important for the links it creates to other trails, but it will also be a wonderful trail in its own right,” says Schroeder. “We plan to approach the trail as a linear park, managing it as a wildlife habitat that we are lucky enough to get to enjoy as well.”

Landowner Cooperation Fundamental Aspect of Trail Project
A mile of the proposed Dry Run Trail route will run through Neste Valley, but the remainder of the land along the route must still be secured. Currently half of the trail route is in the appraisal process and nearly all the landowners along the route have agreed in principle to donate, sell, or provided easements through their land to facilitate the trail.

Trail building is not a quick process. For example, the Trout Run Trail took over 10 years to complete. Development of the Dry Run Trail will involve multiple years of development and funding sources. To date, the trail has received over $1.8 million dollars toward the estimated $3.5 million project, all from funding sources that cannot be used for road projects. The full Dry Run Trail will require a box culvert under  Highway 52, right-of-way purchases easements, five trail bridges, and 8 miles of pavement.


Funds Needed to Complete Projects
The Conservation Board has secured and is pursuing a wide range of grants to help fund the Neste Valley, and the Dry Run Trail, but will soon be initiating a private funds drive as well.

“Conservation and trail grants are incredibly competitive,” said Schroeder, “and many require significant matching funds from other sources. The greater the community support we can show for these projects, the better our chances at getting outside funds to help make them a reality.”

Tax-deductible donations can be directed to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and can be designated specifically toward Neste Valley, Dry Run Trail, or bridge replacements. Recognition donation levels are available.

For more information, please contact the Winneshiek County Conservation Board at (563) 534-7145.

Trails of the Driftless Region

Photo by Lauren Kraus

There are tons of great hiking, biking, and walking trails throughout the Driftless Region in Northeast Iowa, Southeast Minnesota, and Southwest Wisconsin. We’ve featured a number of them in Inspire(d) over the past few years, all written by the lovely Lauren Kraus. Check them out here!

Decorah Area Trails: Twin Springs, Upper Ice Cave Hill in Dunning’s Spring Park, and Van Peenen Park

Trails north of Decorah: Pine Bluff and Coon Creek

The Backwoods of Winneshiek County: Bear Creek and Pine Creek Areas

Falcon Springs State Wildlife Area and Lionberger Environmental Preserve

Trails at Lake Meyer (Calmar, Iowa) + Mother’s Day Trail in Decorah

Southeast Minnesota: Root River State Trail and Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail

Effigy Mounds National Monument (NE Iowa)

Kickapoo Valley Reserve (SW Wisconsin)

Map Courtesy Oneota River Cycles

Minnesota’s River Root State Trail & Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail

By Lauren Kraus | Photo by Explore MN Tourism

Cruising along, breeze on face, sun on skin under a canopy of large trees next to a sheer rock-face covered in a mossy green blanket, yes, I was reminded that true trail beauty might sometimes include asphalt. The Root River and Harmony-Preston Valley State Trails in Southeastern Minnesota are a great, smooth, easy-flowing example of this. Hidden in forests, at the bottom of limestone bluffs, meandering through quaint communities, these two state trails are well worth the trip and not to be missed this summer or fall or winter! They are both multiple-use trails ready for walking, biking, running, in-line skating and groomed for cross country skiing in the winter. The Root River State Trail and most of the Harmony- Preston Valley State Trail were constructed on an abandoned railroad grade making the journey fairly level and wheelchair accessible. Few sections have hills. The Harmony-Preston trail is 18 miles long and connects Harmony and Preston with the Root River State Trail, which is 42 miles in total length from Fountain, Minnesota stretching to Houston, Minnesota.

Each trail is dotted with rest shelters, picnic tables and beautiful bridges crossing the Root River. In addition, the picturesque, rural communities along the route not only provide tasty restaurants (a notable pie shop in Whalan, MN), cool historical buildings and museums, but services for trail users too. Outfitters to supply kayaks and canoes for the river, several campgrounds along the way, bed and breakfast inns and fun shops make these state trails a great, new adventure. There is parking available in all of the towns the trails go through, so it is a matter of finding the closest one to you and hitting the pavement! Fountain, Preston and Harmony are all along Highway 52 and very accessible from wherever your starting point may be. Check out for great information on the trails and the communities they go through, helpful maps of the trail including a mileage chart and other useful links to the area. Grab your bike and take some time to enjoy this beautiful area via paved, easy going asphalt trail – it’s something to take advantage of in the Driftless Region.

Lauren Kraus, Decorah enthusiast, knows the best way to get to know an area or become familiar with the land is to run on it, tromp through it, hike in it, bike around, just soak it in. Not in a vehicle. Hooray for the good weather of summer and fall.