Posts Tagged: Iowa

Donating to the Longest Loop

LongestLoop_Logo_BlackThank You so much for your interest in donating to the Longest Loop Fundraiser.

100% of donations to this project will go to the Winneshiek County Conservation Board to fund the purchase of the Neste Valley Recreational Area.

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is the lead partner in the purchase of Neste Valley Recreational Area, which will transfer to Winneshiek County upon fundraising completion (expected by 2017). INHF accepts online gifts for the project, and your full gift is applied directly to Neste Valley on behalf of Winneshiek County Conservation. Your Longest Loop donation is a tax-deductible qualified charitable contribution.

To donate to the Longest Loop Fundraiser:

  1. Please visit
  2. In the Drop Down Box Labeled “Purpose of Gift” click and select “Neste Valley/Dry Run Trail”
  3. Complete your transaction via Credit Card.
  4. Feel our immense gratitude as you help fund an amazing outdoor resource to our region!



***If you are unable to give via Credit Card on the INHF website you may also mail a check with a note specifying your donation to the Longest Loop Fundraiser with “Neste Valley / Dry Run Trail” in the memo.

Mail Checks to:
Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation
505 5th Avenue, Ste. 444
Des Moines, IA 50309-2321

Questions about your donation? Contact Stacy at INHF: or 515-288-1846 ext 21.

For other options or questions about the Longest Loop Fundraiser please contact Benji Nichols at or 563-379-6315.

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation protects and restores Iowa’s land, water and wildlife. Neste Valley is one of more than 1,000 places this member-supported nonprofit organization has helped private landowners and public agencies to permanently protect. Plus they’ve blazed the way in establishing Iowa’s trails. If you’re new to INHF, they’ll provide full member benefits in gratitude for your donation to Longest Loop.

Thank You for supporting this project!

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.

5 Great Places to Visit in the Driftless

By Benji Nichols • Originally published in the Summer 2014 Inspired

There are a ton of great spots to check out in the Driftless Region – from museums to landmarks to educational centers and more. Some of them are well known, some of them not, but all of them are worth the trip. We’ve put together a list of five we think you should really get to know if you haven’t already. Happy adventuring!



Porter House
401 W. Broadway, Decorah, Iowa

Rocks, bugs, and beauty.

Porter House is not just another pretty house in the Historic District of Decorah. Don’t get us wrong – it is a pretty house in the Historic District of Decorah. But inside, you’ll find all sorts of treasures and tales that transport you to another time…almost another world… the world of the Porters.

Hometown boy Adelbert “Bert” Field Porter (1879 – 1968) grew up across the street from Grace Young Porter (1880 – 1964). While he attended boarding schools during the school year, summers were spent in Decorah with his grandparents. Childhood play dates grew into real dates, and the Grace and Bert married in 1904. Having come from wealthy families, Bert and Grace were free to spend their lives together chasing adventures, creating amazing collections, and exploring history, culture, nature, and art.

Known as a “gentleman naturalist,” Bert was a professional collector, gathering butterflies, rocks, and other curiosities from far-flung locales. Grace accompanied him on many, but not all, of his travels that varied in length from weeks to months and always producing crates and boxes of found items along the way.

Thus, the Porter House, an1867 Italianate villa, has become a character in and of itself.

Outside, the unique grotto-style 1940s rock wall is built with stones from around the world – each one is unique and gorgeous – and compliment the extensive gardens with beautiful plantings and small pond.

Up the gorgeous 1890s wrap-around Queen Anne porch and inside the house, displays range from Grace’s beautiful crochet work to Bert’s truly astounding collection of bugs and butterflies to photographs of the Porter’s wild adventures (hitching along with scientists in South America, for instance). The museum proves interesting for a quick tour, as well as deeper return visits to really get a feel for how astounding the Porter’s travels were for their generation.

“The furnishings show the continual habitation of a family, items acquired and collected over decades of travel and living from the late Victorian era up through the early 20th century,” says Emily Mineart, Consulting Curator/Collections Manager of the museum. “The same house museum displays superb architectural detail, elegant Victorian garments and furnishings, taxidermy bats and caimen, pre-1940s international photographs, Chinese foot-binding shoes, and vast collections of butterfly folk art!”

A unique annual event, the Porter House Garden Party Fundraiser, is planned for Saturday, June 11 (2016), 4:30 to 6:30 pm at the Porter House to help raise funds for ongoing projects. A silent auction of goods and services featuring artistry, history, natural beauty, and great experiences will be offered. All proceeds from the silent auction will go toward the preservation of the museum house and collections. Refreshments will be served on the beautiful Porter House grounds, amidst the gardens, historic porches, and fascinating rock wall.


Iowa Whitewater Parks

Charles City White Water Park, Charles City, IA
Downtown Charles City

Elkader Whitewater Park
Downtown Elkader, Iowa

Manchester Whitewater Park
Downtown Manchester

Whitewater and Iowa. It’s a real thing!

Charles City, Iowa, has brought a flood of new interest to their community by rebuilding a river that would sometimes do just that – flood.

The town of 7600 has always been charming, but the new Whitewater at Riverfront Park project has brought a whole new level of tourism to the forefront. Completed in 2013, the project is the real deal. Designed by Recreation Engineering and Planning (REP) from Boulder, Colorado, the Charles City course encompasses 11 acres of water with three world-class whitewater features rated at Class II and III, depending on water levels – Dam Drop, Docs Drop, and Exit Exam. The white water features are designed with freestyle, surfing, spins, and “rodeo” style kayaking, with some level of previous experience being advisable. Outside of the features, the area is also good for tubing, canoeing, and fishing. The surrounding Riverfront Park includes 23 acres of land featuring a handicap accessible boat launch, disc golf course, natural play area, amphitheater, storm water fountain, labyrinth, and access to the community’s more than five miles of recreational trails.

The 2016 Charles City Challenge Whitewater kayaking event will take place June 18. Check it out here.

Meanwhile, just over in Elkader, the city’s Whitewater Park park is made up of three components – The Gobbler Wave, Boulder Island, and Fish/Canoe Passage. The white water wave components allow for fun playboat and stand-up paddle surfing, flat spins, and freestyle moves. The Passage allows fish to pass upstream and canoes to pass downstream, while also allowing a great starting point for beginners.

And don’t miss Iowa’s newest (and perhaps largest?) whitewater park in Manchester! The Maquoketa provides 6 drops over 800 feet below the Marion Street Dam, including great playboating features and accesible shoreline. More info at

The 2016 ‘Let it Flow’ Riverfest will take place in Manchester June 18, with demos, events, and a special evening concert by Dave Zollo and the Body Electric. Check it all out here.

Note: The sport of whitewater paddling has been growing intensely over the past few years, and while most play areas in these projects can be navigated around easily, the idea of whitewater kayaking is a bit different from the standard canoe or kayak river drifting that many enjoy in the Driftless Region. White water kayaks are often shorter and easier to maneuver in fast water, and include a sprayskirt to keep water out – helmets, PFDs, and special skills are necessary to jump into the sport. Check out either of the above websites for more information, opportunities, and events that will help you get your feet wet!


Iowa Dairy Center
NICC Campus, Calmar, IA
1527 Hwy 150 South, Calmar, Iowa 52132

Wanna go see some cows? Yep. We thought you did.

You better get on over to Iowa’s Dairy Center in Calmar, Iowa. You’ll not only see cows, but a world-class robotic milking facility. Seriously, guys, get a mooove on (groan). Showing the kids, or that farm-sheltered friend, how a dairy facility works is a perfect field trip for our corner of the world.

A project of NICC and the Northeast Iowa Dairy Foundation, the center includes an educational facility with classrooms and labs, a milking parlor, free-stall barn, and calf barn. The partnership with the Northeast Iowa Community College also allows students enrolled in the dairy program to experience hands-on curriculum by working with the center’s dairy herd.

A unique double-eight milking parlor is featured at the Center – complete with a viewing platform that allows visitors to watch the process of cows being milked (open anytime!). This automated milking system demonstrates both herringbone and parallel parlor styles side-by-side, making it the only dairy educational facility of its kind – most likely anywhere! There are exhibits too, like the Hall of Breeds with its life-sized pictures and info on different milk cows. Milkings are done three times daily: 4 am, 12 pm and 8 pm.

A great time to check it all out is when the center hosts its annual “Breakfast on The Farm” June 18, 2016 from 8:30 am to 12pm. Or, to schedule a tour, call Megan at 563-534-9957 ext 107.


Villa Louis
521 N Villa Louis Rd, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin

Summer time is the perfect time to imagine what it was like in the good ‘ol days. Windows open, lemonade on the table, lounging on the veranda as the world seems to slow on down. A trip to Villa Louis in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, can bring this sweet little daydream to life.

The immaculate house and grounds were first conceived by Hercules Louis Dousman (1800 – 1868) after he had acquired a large fortune through his enterprises as a fur trader, lumberman, land speculator, and frontier entrepreneur. In the mid-1840s the Dousman family began developing an estate on the banks of the Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien that would eventually evolve into the Villa Louis. Its vibrant hues and rich textures reflected the family’s rise to wealth and leisure living. Throughout its evolution the property always maintained its elegant and stylish Victorian country home aesthetic, and much attention was paid to the grounds surrounding the mansion and outbuildings.

In the 1930s, mindful of their family’s important place in Wisconsin history, Virginia Dousman Bigelow and Violet Dousman Young – granddaughters of fur trader Hercules Dousman – undertook a restoration of Villa Louis. In 1935 they turned the property over to the city of Prairie du Chien and the Wisconsin Historical Society for operation as a house museum. In the midst of the Great Depression, operating a museum far from the Society’s Madison headquarters seemed a risky venture, so the Society declined the offer. A decade later the family renewed the offer, and in April 1952 Villa Louis opened to the public.

The Dousman heirs also donated a large collection of furnishings and accessories original to the house as well as thousands of letters, business records, photographs and other archival documents.

Villa Louis offers daily tours of the house and property, in addition to fantastic special classes and experiences like Breakfast in a Victorian Kitchen, Come Fly a Kite at Villa Louis, a special Behind the Scenes tour, Kids in a Victorian Kitchen, and more. Call ahead or check the web for full details and deadlines on special offerings.

The museum operates May through early November with tours 10am to 4pm. Additional information and year-round visiting information available by calling 608-326-2721.

For an added adventure bonus this summer, check out the Wisconsin Historical Societies “Family Passport” which offers unlimited admission to 12 awesome history-filled Wisconsin destinations, including the Villa Louis, for just $


Forestville / Mystery Cave State Park
21071 County 118 Preston, Minnesota
Main Park: 507-352-5111

In the early 1850s, two entrepreneurial gents bargained for a section of land near the Root River known as “Watertown”, between Spring Valley and Preston, Minnesota. A double pen log general store was constructed, supplying pioneers in the southern part of the Minnesota Territory. This was the start of Forestville. A rural village supplying to settlers at its peak, Forestville had a general store, school, brickyard, two hotels, two saw mills, a cabinet shop, gristmill, blacksmith shop, and post office. But with the routing of Southern Minnesota Railroad away from the town in 1868, the town slowly drifted into decline. By 1899, the businesses left were all owned by Thomas Meighen, son of one of the original general store founders. By 1910 the town was all but abandoned, left to fall by the boom and bust wayside of settler history.

If this all sounds like a grand “Little House on the Prairie” adventure, you are in luck! In 1949, Forestville State Park was created, and later the Minnesota Historical Society was entrusted with Forestville and now operates the site in full nineteenth-century appearance (1899, to be exact…).

Several ongoing programs are presented by costumed docents throughout the May-through-October season. Programs include: Bread Making Day, From the Churn – butter making!, 1899 Independence Day Celebration (July 4), Pickling, Drying and Sugaring, By the Light of the Lantern, Apple Cider Pressing, and Apple Butter Day. You can check out all the schedules and fun here.

Admission to historic Forestville is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and college students, $5 for children 6-17, and free for 5 and under. The park is open Thursday through Sunday, Memorial Day to Labor Day, with additional Saturdays through October.

Also located at the State park is Mystery Cave, the longest public cave in the state. Added to the park in 1987, admission and entrances to the cave are separate from Historic Forestville.


Benji Nichols thinks that five is just a nice number – and merely just scratches the surface to all of the amazing Driftless destinations for lovely summer days. Get out there…