Tag Archives: Loess Hills

Winter Excursions

December 22, 2017 by
Photography by Contributed

Got cabin fever? Make plans to venture into the blistering cold for some fun this winter, but don’t forget to bundle up. Whether you’re an experienced athlete or looking to burn a few of those lingering holiday calories—your winter adventure awaits!

Mt. Crescent
17026 Snowhill Lane
Honey Creek, Iowa
713-545-3850
skicrescent.com

There’s a mountain in the Omaha area? Well, kind of. If your heart yearns for rolling hills covered in a thick blanket of immaculate snow, there is no need to venture more than 15 miles outside of Omaha. Mt. Crescent Ski Area is the perfect place to hone your skiing abilities or learn how to ski and snowboard for the first time.

UNO Outdoor Venture Center Trips
6001 Dodge St.
402-554-2258
unomaha.edu/student-life/wellness/campus-recreation/ovc

Located in the campus wellness center (aka the HPER Building), Outdoor Venture Center hosts an epic Minnesota winter excursion with dogsledding, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing (Jan. 2-6); a Wyoming snow skiing and snowboarding trip (Jan. 12-15); and wilderness first aid program (Feb. 17-19). The trips are open to UNO students and the general public. Register on the OVC page of the UNO website. The center also rents snowshoes and skis to the public.

Ice Fishing
Visit Nebraska Game and Parks’ website for seasonal ice fishing updates.outdoornebraska.gov/fishing

Grab an ice auger, poles, bait, and a bucket to sit on. If you or a friend have a heated ice hut, then you’re in luck. Ice fishing is fun for the whole family. Just make sure there are 4 inches or more of ice. Ice fishing is the perfect way to spend a cold winter day. The variety and quantity of fish in Standing Bear Lake makes it one of Omaha’s best locations for ice fishing. Other local ice fishing destinations include Lake Manawa, Cunningham Lake, Lake Zorinsky, and any other popular fishing waters.

Top Sledding Hills

Omaha is home to some of the state’s best sledding hills. Take the kids or unleash your own inner child. Memorial Park (go to the north entrance off 56th Street and Underwood Avenue) is one of Omaha’s go-to sledding hills. Alternatively, visit Spring Lake Park in South Omaha and see which of your friends can make it to the bottom of the hill first. If there isn’t enough snow outside for sledding, race down hills of man-made snow at Clemmons Park in Fremont.

Loess Hills Snowshoeing
27792 Ski Hill Loop
Honey Creek, Iowa
712-545-3283
pottcoconservation.com

Stop by Hitchcock Nature Center with your snowshoes and engage in one of winter’s more tranquil outdoor activities. Hitchcock Nature Center consists of 1,268 acres with a trail running through the Loess Hills. Walk through freshly fallen snow and take in the winter wonderland scenery. Register online for winter snowshoe hikes led by Pottawattamie Conservation staff (snowshoe rental included with $5 admission).

Cross-Country Skiing

Did someone say cross-country skiing in Omaha? You don’t have to travel outside of the city to hone your skiing skills. Test your endurance at Elmwood Park’s golf course (situated nearby the UNO Outdoor Venture Center, if you need rental gear). Try cross-country skiing on the 770 acres of Zorinsky Lake Park, or venture out to Eugene T. Mahoney State Park for some of the best snow-covered trails in Omaha area.

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Castle in the Woods

November 3, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Henry David Thoreau had Walden Pond. Yogi and Boo-Boo had Jellystone Park. Mary and Alex Graeve have Hitchcock Nature Center.

Their backyard is the 1,270-acre preserve located just five miles north of Crescent, Iowa. Mary and Alex are the children of Amy and Chad Graeve. Chad is the park ranger and natural resource specialist for the land situated in the heart of the Loess Hills.

The unique geological formation was created after the last Ice Age when glacial flooding receded along the Missouri River basin. Much of the remaining sediment was swept away by winds and settled in layer upon layer to form the steep, rugged terrain that is known for its sometimes challenging hiking trails. The park is also a Mecca for area birders, especially because of its position along what is called “Hawk Highway,” a major migratory path for birds of prey that will remain particularly active through December.

“I grew up in the country,” says Amy, a substitute teacher in the Lewis Central Community School District, “and this, to me, is the only way to live.”

The park is not only a place of great natural beauty, it’s a place of romance. The couple met when Amy brought her students to Hitchcock on a field trip.

“I had a habit of flirting with all the prettiest teachers,” Chad says with a wry grin.

Chad is also a wild-land firefighter, which means he may be called away with only hours notice to hop a plane at Eppley Airfield. His most recent assignment had him battling a blaze in Montana last August. Amy worries about the perilous work, and the lingering stench of smoke that forever permeates his firefighting gear is a constant reminder of danger.

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The park has not always been the pristine, densely wooded landscape familiar to campers, birders, and hikers today. The campground, for example, was built over a junkyard.

“That’s where we go to find stuff,” says Mary. A raised eyebrow and questioning look is all it takes for Alex to chime in. “You know…stuff…a wagon wheel, an old high chair,” he says. “The best, coolest stuff.” The Graeve kids are natural-born archeologists when it comes to excavating the flotsam and jetsam of what to them are relics on an ancient civilization.

“We call it treasure,” Mary says. “The highchair is our throne, and we have a castle in the woods,” she says in describing a primitive shelter they erected near another of their hidden get-aways, a double-super-secret treehouse.

Imaginations in Hitchcock park, it would appear, run as wild as the surroundings.

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Living in the woods may seem a barrier to socialization for the kids, but Amy believes they have struck a nice balance. Mary and Alex make instant—if temporary—friends with the children of families staying in the nearby campground. They have robust school, extracurricular, and sports lives. And the children frequently host fireside sleepovers.

“We instill in our kids that, first and foremost, they should be the best of friends because they do spend so much time together,” Amy says. “This is our little place—our family place—and the way we live ensures that family comes first.”

If family comes first with the Graeves, a deep respect for nature isn’t far behind.

“My role is to be a steward of the land—to take care of it, to help it heal,” Chad explains. “Introducing people to that concept of stewardship and helping them to connect with nature,” he says, is one of the most rewarding parts of his job.

“Hitchcock is a very special place,” he continues, “and I have the special privilege of doing my part to keep it that way.”

Visit pottcoconservation.com to learn more.

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