Late summer offers an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities in the area, from hiking, hunting, fishing and birdwatching, to picnicking and swimming.
“One of the coolest things about Boone County is there is over 10,000 acres of public land. There are not a lot of counties in Iowa that can boast that,” Ledges State Park Manager Andy Bartlett said.
For public access to hunting, fishing and birdwatching, Bartlett recommends checking out land on the south side of Ledges up and down the Des Moines River Valley.
“As you get up north kind of near waterworks, there are some restrictions, archery only,” he said. “But south of there, it’s open to any type of hunting.”
Boone County has a good allotment of antlerless tags for deer hunting.
“A lot of counties even right north and northwest of us have no more,” he said. “I see a lot of people come and camp at Ledges and then hunt the public land around the park just to be able to get an antlerless tag for an antlerless deer.”
Anglers are gearing up for fall fishing. As days cool down and water temperatures drop, expect to catch walleye and crappie in Don Williams Lake and in some of the deeper parts of the Des Moines River such as the Big Eddy and Tilley’s Hole.
Ledges State Park in Madrid offers an antlerless archery deer management hunt. Thirty antlerless deer licenses have been designated for the park’s special archery hunt. It will be limited to 20 hunters. Applications are being accepted through the end of August. Hunting dates are Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. Learn more by calling Ledges at 515-432-1852 or online.
“It provides recreation and helps us manage the population of deer, reducing the vegetative damage in the park, and even some of the damage to crops from neighboring landowners,” Bartlett said.
September is the kickoff month for a lot of the hunting seasons: small game, like squirrel and rabbit, and later in October pheasant season starts. Deer hunting season for youth starts Sept. 19 and runs through Oct. 4.
“One of the cool things about a youth license is that for someone under age 16, if they don’t fill their tag in that season, they can use that license again in any other season later in the year, provided they use the approved weapon for that season,” Bartlett said.
Disabled hunter season runs Sept. 16 through Oct. 4. Getting a license requires a physician’s certification.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a statement pertaining to hunting in areas damaged by the derecho.
“Hunters are allowed to hunt waterfowl over fields that were knocked down by the wind because those fields are considered standing crops. Hunters are also allowed to hunt waterfowl over fields knocked down by the wind and harvested or harvested to the best of the equipment’s ability and in accordance with guidance form Iowa State Extension, because the crops are considered to have been harvested in a normal manner. However, hunters may not hunt fields knocked down by the wind, not harvested and manipulated (shredded, disking, etc.) as required by insurance as it is then considered manipulated agricultural crops, which is not allowed.”
Iowa’s teal only season begins Sept. 1.
Bartlett said folks interested in birdwatching should explore Ledges.
“Birds use these areas in the fall for resting spots,” he said. “You’ll see all kinds of warbler species and things that don’t typically spend their summers here.”
Erica Place, outreach coordinator with Story County Conservation, said Story County was recently designated as a bird-friendly county. “McFarland Park in Ames is a good place to watch feeders. For birdwatching and hiking, I recommend the Skunk River Greenbelt trails, Jennett Heritage Area and Roland Wildlife Area,” she said.
While the Skunk River water level is currently low, it is an ideal spot for catching smallmouth bass. Robison Wildlife Acres, located south of Nevada, is another good place for anglers to explore.
Dakins Lake is located in a newly expanded 103-acre park situated just north of Zearing. Place said it’s popular for ice fishing, but ideal year-round. The 20-acre lake has bass, bluegill, channel catfish, crappie and perch.
“You can get some really good-sized fish in that lake,” she said.
Place said restoration efforts at Hickory Grove Lake near Colo are on-going but worth the wait.
The Des Moines River is low right now, with the opportunity to wade out on some of the sandbars. However, Bartlett said swimming is safest at designated beaches, or creek stomping at Ledges.
Place suggests people check out Tedesco Environmental Learning Corridor, located within the ISU Research Park.
“It’s still pretty new. It has a mix of trails, wetlands, shelter and solar-powered charging stations,” she said. “It’s a really neat mesh of nature and city.”
This article originally appeared on Ames Tribune: Outdoor recreation abounds in Boone and Story counties