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As the temperatures cool and autumn leaves begin to change color, now is a perfect time to get out and enjoy what the Iowa landscape has to offer.
A website titled TrailLink, maintained by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, provides locations and descriptions of walking and biking trails across the country, including a handful in the immediate area.
The most familiar trail in Ringgold County is the Ringgold Trailway located between Highway 169 and County Highway P64 east of Mount Ayr. According to the TrailLink description, “This 4.1-mile out-and-back trail is generally considered an easy route. It takes an average of 1 hour 19 minutes to complete. This trail is great for birding, road biking, and running, and it’s unlikely you’ll encounter many other people while exploring. The best times to visit this trail are March through November. Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.” This paved trail maintained by Ringgold County Conservation runs through Poe Hollow Park and features a bridge at the one-mile mark.
Another lesser-known trail is the Mapleleaf Pathway near Diagonal. The TrailLink description states: “The Mapleleaf Pathway occupies an abandoned Chicago and North Western Railway corridor, which once formed part of a larger system that looked like a maple leaf when viewed on a map—hence the trail’s name. Running north from the northeastern edge of Diagonal, the Mapleleaf Pathway passes through a dense stand of lowland timber trees. The mix of oaks, cottonwood, maples and buckeye trees, along with the trail’s seclusion, makes the route an excellent spot for bird watching. The trail is also a popular local destination for berry picking. After trekking away from Diagonal for 1.5 miles, the trail ends at the scenic Grand River.”
A popular nearby trail is the Lamoni Rail-Trail. The Trail-Link description states: “The Lamoni Rail-Trail, also called the Lamoni Recreation Trail, is a delightful route through the downtown area, with a side loop through the campus of Graceland University. You can begin the trail at the Iowa Gateway Welcome Center (Exit 4 on I-35), which makes a nice break if you need to stretch those legs during a long drive. From here, the trail heads west to downtown Lamoni then continues north and west into the countryside, past small lakes and open fields, to end at Liberty Hall. Liberty Hall is a Victorian-era house open for public viewing and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Lamoni Rail-Trail follows an abandoned railroad corridor and incorporates an earthen dam plus two reconstructed trestles.”
Little River Scenic Pathway
The city of Leon features the Little River Scenic Pathway. The TrailLink description states: “Since 1994, the Little River Scenic Pathway has offered something for everyone to enjoy. Users can enjoy nature while hiking, biking, jogging or exercising at fitness areas along the trail or by taking a leisurely stroll and stopping for a picnic along the way. The trail, which lies on the old Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, is open year-round for all to enjoy. The Little River Scenic Pathway is located just to the south of the Little River Recreation Area, which features a 787 acre lake and a variety of recreational activities. The Decatur County Fairgrounds is the trail’s eastern endpoint.”
Park to Park Trail
Creston features a system of walking trails from McKinley Park to Green Valley State Park. The TrailLink description states: “So named because it travels between McKinley Park in Creston and Green Valley State Park to the north of town, the Park to Park Trail provides over four miles of paved, multi-use trail to help connect these fantastic recreation amenities in this rural part of Iowa. The trail is a mix of asphalt and concrete, and is mostly flat with very little shade, so be sure to bring some sunscreen or wait for a cloudy day.
McKinley Park is situated around Lake McKinley, a popular local fishing spot; the park offers a whole host of outdoor activities, with picnic areas, playgrounds, and a number of athletic facilities. At the other end of the trail, Green Valley State Park is also a popular regional destination for camping, picnicking, and fishing. And of course, the Park to Park Trail itself offers a number of recreation opportunities, giving cyclists and joggers a quality pathway to get in some miles, and providing some lovely views of the surrounding Iowa farmland.
The trail does require a couple quick jogs along the sides of the road to connect short gaps, so exercise caution as you proceed on your journey. Within the state park, the trail leads into the trail system that spans the perimeter of Green Valley Lake – to the east of the trail’s end along 140th Street, the Green Valley Lake Trail begins as a paved trail, with additional paved segments in the works.”
The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is the nonprofit organization that seeks to preserve unused rail beds and turn them into recreational trails. Their ambitious goal is to create a network of trails that will connect the East Coast to the West Coast in America.