Iowa Trails Receive National Recognition

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Built in 1897, and overlooking the Mississippi River near the mouth of Catfish Creek, this monument houses the grave of Julien Dubuque, after whom Dubuque is named.

The trails at Mines of Spain are some of the best in Iowa’s state parks and by being designated as part of the National Trails System by the U.S. Department of Interior on June 4; the trails are now in elite company.

Iowa had 16 trails or portions of trails designated as National Trails System, and with the designation of Mines of Spain, along with the Great Western Trail and Summerset Trail, the number is pushed to 19.

“I felt we were worthy of it. I get a lot of complements from people who use it,” said Wayne Buchholtz, park ranger for Mines of Spain, since 1993. “I like to say we have some of the best trails around and this designation just proves it.”

Receiving the designation was a six month process. Part of the application looks at the types of trails and facilities available to users. Mines of Spain State Recreation Area has different trail types, including cross country skiing, and has trails that showcase different natural settings, for example, different forest settings, upland and lowland settings, and even floating trails.

The application also asks if the area has any historically significant areas and many – not all – usually have as many as three significant areas. “We have 252 archeological sites in the park covering diverse cultures,” Buchholtz said.

Visitors to the Mines of Spain trails will see dramatically different scenery as the seasons change. When the trees are leafed out, all that is visible from the trails are the trees. Once the leaves are gone, trail users discover cliffs and rock outcroppings and a hidden stream. Right now, the prairie trail is blooming and full of color.

Some of the nearly 20 miles of trails have interpretive signs at the significant or historical features. Buchholtz said the trails have added GPS coordinates including mileage and will soon have elevations.

Once the park staff has finished with flood related clean-up, they will look at a ceremony announcing this new designation. Mines of Spain is already designated a National Historic Landmark and a Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Site.

“We hope this new designation will encourage more people to come visit the area because we have something really special right here in Iowa,” he said.

The Summerset trail goes through Summerset State Park and like other trails that are near a state park, the park serves as a hub for trail users. Mark Edwards, state trails coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources since 1980, said he is seeing more activity on Iowa trails than in the past.

“I’m meeting more and more people in our state parks who are riding these trails in groups, leapfrogging from park to park as they work their way down these different trail systems,” Edwards said. “Our parks are serving as a hub for these trails. They use our facilities, stay in our parks and get local information from the staff as they use these trails.”

Many communities see trails as a way to connect with each other and as a way to bring in some tourism to their area.

“People have really tuned in to these trails and it is good to see not only for the health benefits, but it is good to see people connecting with these rural communities and supporting the mom-and-pop businesses,” Edwards said.