Friday, April 1, 2016

Trail Volunteer Work Day

Stone State Park
Trail Volunteer Day
Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016
8 A.M. to 12 P.M. and 1 P.M to 4 P.M.
Come enjoy a beautiful spring day at Stone State Park and help maintain our multi-use trails!  We will meet at the Wahkaw Shelter to clear trails, dig drains, and any other trail maintenance that needs to be done.
Children 12 years and younger are welcome but need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.  Anyone planning on attending, please call the office or e-mail Ryan McPherren with the time in which you will be attending.
Please bring water, gloves, sunscreen, sturdy shoes, and work clothes.  Long pants will be required, but long sleeved shirts are not; but are highly recommended.
If the trails are wet on April 30th, we will not be able to work.  The event will be moved to the following Saturday on May 7th.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Des Moines – Iowa State Parks will sponsor free, guided hikes in 17 state parks on New Year’s Day as part of America's State Parks First Day Hikes initiative in all 50 states. 

America’s State Parks First Day Hikes offer individuals and families an opportunity to begin the New Year rejuvenating and connecting with the outdoors by taking a healthy hike on January 1 at a state park close to home. First Day Hikes offer a great way to get outside, exercise, enjoy nature and welcome the New Year with friends and family. 

“We are excited to host First Day Hikes as part of this national effort to get people outdoors and into our parks.  First Day Hikes are a great way to cure cabin fever and burn off those extra holiday calories by starting off the New Year with an invigorating walk or hike in one of our beautiful state parks,” said Todd Coffelt, chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources State Parks Bureau.  

“Last year, we hosted a record-breaking 41,000 people who hiked 72,442 miles in our state parks across the country when we launched America’s State Parks First Day Hikes,” said Priscilla Geigis, President of the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD).  “Think of it as the start of a new and healthy lifestyle, for the whole family. Whether you’re staying close to home or traveling, join us at one of America’s State Parks on New Year’s Day.”  

Iowa’s state parks boast a variety of beautiful settings for year-round outdoor recreation, and each First Day Hike will offer an opportunity to explore the unique natural and cultural treasures close to home. 

“Studies have proven that getting outdoors is one good way to relax and recharge the body, mind and spirit,” stated Lewis Ledford, NASPD’s executive director.  “We hope that hiking along a trail in a state park will become part of an individual’s or family’s regular exercise routine.”

Staff and volunteers will lead First Day Hikes in Iowa’s 17 participating state parks. Hikes will average one to two miles or longer depending on the location.  Details about the hikes can be found at  and to see a comprehensive map of First Day Hikes across the country, visit

Iowa First Day Hikes will take place at the following 17 state parks:



Gitchie Manitou State Preserve

Stone State Park

Dolliver Memorial State Park

Brushy Creek State Recreation Area

Ledges State Park

Springbrook State Park



Wilson Island State Recreation Area

Green Valley State Park

Waubonsie State Park



Walnut Woods State Park

Honey Creek State Park

Honey Creek Resort

Lake Darling State Park



Backbone State Park

Mines of Spain State Recreation Area

Pikes Peak State Park

Yellow River State Forest


America's State Parks is committed to promoting outdoor recreation in state parks as a way to address obesity, especially among children.  Getting kids outside and unplugged from video games and other electronic media creates a unique connection with nature that promotes physical and mental well-being and encourages creativity and stewardship of our shared resources.

 (From the Iowa DNR News, 12/08/15)


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Friends of Stone Park partner with parks staff to improve camp sites.

The Friends of Stone Park have been busy this fall making improvements to the some of the camp sites.  Volunteers and park staff shared time and materials to level camp sites, add rock, and install edging at six prime camp sites.  In the spring, three more sites will be completed.

Thank you Zac, Jeff, Zach, Derek, and Jack!  You have made some Happy Campers.

Friday, July 3, 2015

American Ketrel

American Kestrel Nest Box Installation

American Kestrels are North America’s smallest and most widespread falcon. Males have blue/gray wings, rusty colored backs, and rusty colored tails with black tips. Females have rusty colored barred wings, backs, and tails. They live in open habitats such as open fields, grassy meadows, and power line right-of-ways. They are secondary cavity nesters, meaning that they nest in cavities that occur naturally or have been previously hollowed out by other birds. They also depend on scattered trees for perching while hunting. They eat mostly insects and small mammals, but also consume small birds, frogs, and lizards.

In some areas American Kestrel populations are in slight decline because of a decrease in nesting habitat. Because of this it is fairly common practice to build and install nest boxes in appropriate areas. This week we installed a nest box in a portion of prairie along the southern part of the Stone Park.  There are several different Kestrel nest box designs – the picture below shows the style we chose. We added two inches of wood shavings for nesting material so that the box is ready for use. Boxes should be placed 10 to 20 feet above the ground on a stable wooden post or pole. They should be placed in areas that include hunting perches and suitable hunting habitat.

Kestrels begin to nest in mid-March. After the females lay their eggs they incubate for about 30 days before hatching occurs. They are then cared for by the adults for an additional 30 to 38 days before the leaving the nest and are dependent on parents for food for about another two weeks before they disperse and become independent. We hope that we will be able to see some Kestrels using this box within the next few years. When you visit the park be sure and keep your eyes open for a glimpse of these impressive birds!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Garlic Mustard

As an AmeriCorps member working at Stone Park one of my main duties is invasive plant removal, and one of the biggest target species is Garlic Mustard. Garlic Mustard is a biennial herb that was first brought to the United States from Europe by the early settlers for food and medicine. It is a short rosette the first year, and then forms a tall stalk the second year, which produces small white flowers, followed by the formation of seed pods, producing up to 200 seeds per plant. Once introduced into an area it spreads quickly and crowds out the native plants. If no control efforts are made then a site that was once full of a large variety of native wildflowers can become a vast  expanse of nothing but garlic mustard.

To prevent this we have been spending much of our time on Garlic Mustard removal. There are various techniques we use. The most basic method is hand removal. This requires simply pulling the plants by hand, making sure to remove as much of the root as possible. Another method is to use a propane torch to burn the plants. This is only effective on first year plants, but it is a much faster way to control large patches. We usually go through an area and pull the second year plants, then go back through and torch the first year plants. However, if the area has too many second year plants we can also use a string trimmer to cut them. This doesn’t always kill the second year plants, but it does hinder the growth, and any plants that resprout will produce less seeds. We will also be doing this after plants have produced seed, but before seed release (late June or early July). We will make sure that plants are bagged and disposed of properly so that seeds are contained.

As I previously mentioned, Garlic Mustard is an edible herb. A quick internet search will lead you to several different recipes. If you are interested you can come pick some at Stone Park and take it home to try. Every plant you pick will help the park and it just might become the secret ingredient in all your best dishes!  Contact us here at the park and we can direct you to a patch of first year plants (second year plants are bitter and undesirable). Just be sure to clean your clothing and shoes after walking through an area of garlic mustard, so that you don’t spread seeds to new areas of the park or your home. Also, if you just want to spend some time outdoors, and want to help keep the park beautiful and healthy, we would be glad to have you join our team for a day, or even an hour. Every plant pulled is 100-200 less for next year. Think of the difference you could make!


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Prescribed Fires At Stone Park

Historically fire was an important factor for maintaining healthy prairie habitats. It was caused by natural events, such as lightning storms, and set intentionally by Native Americans. They used fire during hunts to trap animals, to protect themselves from wildfires, and to make traveling through grasslands easier. However, as more American settlers moved in to areas and human population numbers increased, fire was suppressed to protect the people, their homes, and town structures. Because of this trees and shrubs have encroached on many prairies, decreasing habitat quality and availability. In order to protect and restore prairie systems, prescribed fires have become an important land management tool.

 Due to scientific research it is understood that prairie plants are adapted to the presence of fire. Grasses and wildflowers have extensive root systems, where fire does not penetrate, so they are not harmed. As fire goes through an area, ground cover thatch is reduced and nutrients are released back into the soil. At the same time non-native seedling and sapling plants are killed. The combination of increased light availability, higher nutrient levels, and decreased competition stimulates the growth of native plants.

Historically Stone Park also had oak-savanna habitats, meaning that Burr Oak trees were dispersed within the prairie grasses and flowers. Fire helps these habitats too. Burr oaks have thick bark that protects them from fire and their saplings are much more fire resistant than other tree saplings. Because of this fire can be used to decrease leaf litter among the trees, kill non-prairie trees that have invaded, and reduce the number of non-native seedlings. All of these factors help ensure that the savannas are preserved instead of transitioning into more dense woodlands, where prairie species cannot survive.

So what does it take to successfully perform a prescribed burn? The first step is planning. The burn area must be identified, and control lines must be established. Weather is closely monitored and area officials are informed. A crew of experienced people is gathered and equipped with proper fire tools. The weather, plans, hazards, safety precautions, and goals are all discussed. Then the area is intentionally set on fire and closely monitored during and after the burn. The area is also monitored over the following days to make sure all of the fire is out and there is no threat of a prescribed burn turning into an uncontrolled wildfire. As you can see, each prescribed fire takes a lot of work, and each one is taken very seriously.

This year we have conducted two prescribed fires here at Stone Park. One burn was done along the Mount Lucia trail and the other was done on the Mount Talbot State Preserve. It has been about two weeks since both burns and if you visit these areas you will already see a difference. The black is quickly turning to green and the prairie plants will continue and thrive throughout the summer.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Spring Volunteer Events at Stone Park

Saturday, March 28: Prairie Rescue with Americorps Volunteers, 10:00 a.m., Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center.  Wear sturdy work boots, work gloves, long pants and dress for the weather. We will be cutting brush out of the prairie. For more information or to pre-register contact 712-258-0838.

Saturday, April 4:  Stone State Park Butterfly Garden, 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, Stone Lodge, Stone State Park.  Help Americorps Volunteers plant native plants to attract butterflies.  Light lunch provided, bring garden gloves and a hand tool.  Contact Chris Waas at Stone State Park for more information 712-255-4698 or
Saturday, April 18: Roadside Cleanup, 10:00 a.m. – Noon, Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center. Help the Friends of Stone Park pick up litter along Hwy. 12. Meet at the parking area inside the entrance to Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center. Safety vests, trash bags, and gloves provided. Contact Park Ranger, Kevin Pape for more information at
712- 255-4698.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Spring Cleaning and Housing Additions at Stone Park

Although it may not feel like spring just yet, it is just around the corner. And everyone knows what happens when spring comes – spring cleaning! The first thing on our cleaning list was the bluebird nestboxes here at the park. There are 20 established nest boxes scattered throughout the approximate 1600 acres, and recently Chris and I cleaned them all out. In most cases this just involved taking old nesting material out (and sometimes an old wasp nest). However, in one box Chris was in for quite a surprise, when she opened it and encountered a mouse family! I guess that goes to show that we are being presumptuous when we call them bluebird nestboxes, because the mice seem to have made it a cozy home for themselves!


 The removal of old nesting material is necessary because most bluebirds do not remove old nesting material. They do sometimes nest on top of old nests, but this can increase the likelihood of disease and parasites. The old nests are usually quite flat the end of the breeding season and covered in feces and feather dander. Old nests also are more likely to attract ants. No one would want to come home to a mess like that after a long winter vacation!  

Along with cleaning out the already established boxes, we also added 3 more boxes to the park. One of them was added to a piece of more recently acquired land on the southernmost part of the park. It was placed on a cedar tree that had been topped and stripped of all of its limbs. The other 2 were placed at Spirit Knoll, a 220 acre State Preserve 3 miles north of Stone Park.

  Now that the houses are clean and ready to be inhabited, it is up to the bluebirds to take over the work. Throughout March and early April we hope to be seeing lots of bluebirds choosing this season’s home and making them nice and cozy for their new families. We are also excited to see how well they like the locations we chose for the newest boxes  You are more than welcome to come help us keep an eye out for bluebirds with their bills full of nesting material.

 - S.H.



Friday, February 6, 2015

Winter Returns to Stone Park!

Winter Returns to Stone Park!

If the Phil, the groundhog, had come out last week to tell us that winter was going to last another 6 weeks, I would have been very skeptical.  The past few weeks have been warm, almost spring-like. As we dealt with muddy roads and the slick loess slopes while working, Chris and I had to keep reminding ourselves that it was still January, not March. This past weekend finally brought the winter back though. Stone Park is again covered in 5-6 inches of snow and seeing below freezing temperatures.

Canada wild rye with the frozen Turtle Lake in the background
There is something special about being out in the park with a fresh snow on the ground. The snow reveals the tracks of critters like mice, raccoons, deer, and turkeys as they travel along their way, and the brisk cold makes the air seem even more fresh and clean. Get here early and you will see the frost glistening on the native grasses, or come late and travel out to one of the overlooks in time to watch the sun go down behind the snowy tree covered hills.


Snow covered yucca on a prairie hillside

Today Phil’s shadow told us that winter will last a while longer, but in case he is wrong, come on out and enjoy your favorite winter recreation while the snow is fresh! We have 6 miles of snowmobile trails and 8 miles of cross-country/ skiing and snowshoeing trails.  The sights are breathtaking, as always, and there is an abundance of turkeys, deer, squirrels, and songbirds to see along the way. And if you are really lucky, you might also find some fresh antler sheds as the white-tail deer breeding season draws to a close.
AmeriCorps Member - Shaena Howell