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Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 17, 2014
OUTDOORS

Get outdoors for Healthy & Happy program

By IOWA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES | Oct 16, 2013

Head outdoors this fall to stay healthy and happy.

Iowa’s Healthy & Happy Outdoors, known as the H20 program, connects Iowans with the activities and places to improve their health and reduce stress. And while they are at it, they can log in, to win prizes.

In southeast Iowa, that might be walking through a state forest or along the Des Moines River, enveloped by the sight, sounds and shades of autumn. It could be paddling along one of Iowa’s dozens of water trails, fishing in a hidden pond or trekking the fields or woods, hunting.

With a click at https://programs.iowadnr.gov/healthyhappyoutdoors/Pages/Home.aspx, you can take your pick of state parks, county parks, canoe routes and wildlife areas, and decide whether to hike, paddle, watch wildlife, camp, hunt or fish. And each time you log in, you receive credit for your outdoor activity; increasing your odds in monthly drawings for outdoor gear. More importantly, you can also improve your health and reduce stress.

While opportunities abound from county to county; some high quality — but overlooked outings are out there. One is the Odessa Water Trail, where you can meander your way across pools, wetlands and timbered chutes in Louisa County.

Depending on your experience, routes can be challenging or more for novices.

“Through fall migration, you will see thousands of waterfowl, shorebirds and other wildlife, as you navigate through a national wildlife refuge,” points out Nate Hoogeveen, DNR river programs coordinator. Learn more at www.naturallylouisacounty.com or www.iowadnr.gov.

And to stay healthy, keep track of fall weather while you canoe or kayak.

“Make sure you pull on coldwater gear, as the combined air and water temperatures dip below 120 degrees,” recommends Hoogeveen.

Fall foliage is usually at its peak through the last half of October in southeast Iowa. Whether you are walking, hiking or fishing, river corridors offer spectacular shows at the peak of the leaf turn.

One of the better locations for leaf looking is in or around Shimek State Forest through Lee and Van Buren counties.

In fact, Shimek’s Keosauqua unit has almost eight miles of hiking trails. With large blocks of oak and hickory, mixed with a thousand acres of planted pine, Shimek is a unique natural resource.

Camping is available in various units of the forest. Go to www.iowadnr.gov/Destinations/StateForests/Shimek. Cabins are also available, in the town of Keosauqua and other locations.

Hunting is underway through much of the fall and early winter in Shimek; a different “big woods” sort of feel; as opposed to the farmstead and timber stands or grassland through most of Iowa. Deer and turkey hunting are big favorites. Squirrel hunting holds with some of the traditionalists.

Almost lost in all those healthy, happy activities is fishing. Ponds throughout the Shimek units offer exceptional bluegill and redear sunfish fishing.

“Some anglers fish the dam. Others pull a kickboat back with them and float the 1.5 to 10 acre ponds,” says DNR fisheries biologist Chad Dolan. “I’d suggest 1/32nd ounce lead head jigs or wet flies casting around structure, from the water. The setting is fantastic. You drive part way through the mature trees, and hike a quarter mile back through the pines to get to them.”

Shimek’s White Oak and Shagbark ponds get high marks from the guy who manages the state forest ponds.

For traditional fall lake fishing, wet a line at Lake Sugema. County Conservation Department cabins are nearby for a rustic feel, yet still offering a roof over your head, despite roughing it, in the outdoors.

Fall walleye fishing can be great on the 570-acre lake, with plenty of standing timber.

“With its good water quality, the ‘witching hour,’ just before dark always seems to be the best period,” suggests DNR fisheries biologist Mark Flammang.

He suggests crankbaits along rocky points and shorelines ... also along the dam. If you are after fall crappies, look for “stick ups,” structure left in the bed when the lake was flooded, about 20 years ago.

For a fall surprise, though, turn back to 22-acre Lacey-Keosauqua Lake.

“There is great bluegill fishing,” notes Flammang. “The steep-sided lake produces large bluegills. Sometimes, just drifting with a jig tossed from the boat, with a piece of night crawler [will attract them].”

While you are cleaning fish or looking back at your fall foliage photos, though, don’t forget to log in to record your fall H2O excursion.

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