Funded by REAP

Resource Enhancement and Protection

What's New!
 Director's Desk | Nature Talk 

Our Quarterly Newsletter now On-line

Naturally Speaking is now available in PDF. Click here for August 2015 Edition.

Other issues also available. Click here for Autumn 2014 Edition. Click here for Spring 2014 Edition. Click here for Winter 2014 Edition.

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Also, if you want to look at last summer's Dutch Oven Cook Off, the 2014 Dutch Oven Cook Off newsletter is also available. Click here - may take a while to load.

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Upcoming Public Programs


Wild Edibles. Saturday, September 5, 2015: 1:00 - 3:00 p.m.

You asked for it, you got it! We are bringing in naturalist Kathy Dice to introduce participants to nature’s wild edibles. Kathy co-owns Red Fern Farms in Wapello, IA and has been a wild edibles enthusiast for over 35 years. An hour of trail time will be followed by a cooking demonstration and then time for questions. Pre-registration is required. Fee: $15.00 per participant. Meets at Jefferson County Park nature center located at 2003 Libertyville Road, just southwest of Fairfield. To register call Therese at 472-4421 or e-mail

Left: Kathy (in hat) talks with a 6th grade group from the Fairfield Middle School.

Basket Making: Therese’s Choice. Saturday, September 12: 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.

When making wicker baskets it often seems that the base takes the most time to complete! But this basket will introduce participants to the use of a pre-drilled base leaving participants ample time to master some new weaving techniques along the sides! Fee: $15. Supplies are limited. Pre-registration is required. Call 472-4421 or


September Birding. Sunday, September 13th: 9 a.m.

Join naturalist/writer Diane Porter and naturalist Therese Cummiskey for a morning bird hike at Jefferson County Park. Diane says that we should see some fall migrating warblers, sparrows and vireos. Meets in the parking lot near Shelter #3 (near the big pond) at Jefferson County Park. No fee and no pre-registration required.


Critters Night Hike. Sunday, September 27th: 6:30 - 8:00 p.m.

Bring along the kids for this night time hike and along the way you’ll meet some unusual characters….perhaps a batty scientist, or a critter lady, maybe the critter itself! Small groups led by a guide will leave from Shelter #3 every 15 minutes. You don’t have to have kids to participate but all children must be accompanied by an adult.


Geode & Fossil Hunt. Saturday, October 3, 2015: 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

We’ll be heading to Van Buren County in search of Iowa’s State Rock plus we'll be in a location to find fossils as well. You don't have to have children to participate but all children 2nd grade and under must be accompanied by an adult. Space is limited so pre-registration is required. Bring along a bucket and your lunch and wear clothes and shoes you don’t mind getting wet. Participants must be able to walk up to a 1/2 mile and be able to walk over rocky terrain. Because we'll be on private property all participants are required to sign a waiver. Fee: $15.00/person ($5 for a parent accompanying children). To register call Therese at 472-4421 or e-mail


Trail Drive Through. Sunday, October 18th, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. The Jefferson County Conservation Board will host another “trail drive through” on Sunday, October 18th. Two sections of the trail will be open to vehicles from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. There will be two routes to choose from. Route 1: Enter Cedar View Trail off 32nd street and exit at 223rd street one and a half miles later. It will take you over Cedar Creek on one of the largest trail bridges in the county. Route 2: Enter Cedar View Trail off 32nd street and then drive down onto the Loop Trail heading south to the Maasdam Barns and then exiting onto Hwy 1 near the Hospital. We hope people come out to enjoy this once-a-year opportunity to drive a section of our trail system. The Maasdam museum will be open to anyone interested.

(Above: A group of classic car enthusiasts came out to enjoy the trail drive through in 2014.)


Need more info? Call Therese at 472-4421, or e-mail to



From the Director's Dennis Lewiston

Enjoy Your County Parks This Summer! Did you know that every county in Iowa (99) has a county conservation board? The Iowa County Conservation system was established in 1955. Since that time, over 1,832 county conservation areas, encompassing over 193,624 acres have been established. 24 million park users spending 851.5 million dollars visit Iowa’s county parks each year.



Nature Talk... by Therese Cummiskey

In Mom’s Yard (Written January 2014)

Of the over two dozen trees in my mom’s yard there are five that many people would say have seen better days. All of them are box elders. Two still have some life left in them, but the others are all but dead...and they’ve been that way for some time. But while others might see “dying trees in need of a chainsaw”, my mom sees “character”. Haggard and gnarled, limbs lost, profile lopsided, these old trees appeal to her artistic nature. And so, since they pose no threat to the house or the neighbors property, they remain standing.

Box elders are actually in the maple family and like all maples they produce sap in spring which can be boiled down into a sweet syrup. Most people would label the box elder a “weed tree” since it tends to pop up just about anywhere, as long as it has enough sunlight. John Eastman in his book The Book of Forest and Thicket says that although box elders “generally ignore human standards for an attractive tree” that in the past “farmers and city planners, however, needed a tree that would grow fast and reliably….thus today we see old box elders lining city streets, shading yards and farmstead, and rising from vacant lots and old fields.”

While my mom’s reason for keeping the aging box elders is aesthetics, they have turned out to be a valuable asset to the local wildlife. Their nooks and crannies are used by critters to store food while other cavities in the dying wood provide a place to live for birds, bats, and squirrels. Thirty years ago I never saw a nuthatch or a chickadee in my mom’s yard but her now-dying box elders provide an important ingredient in the habitat requirements of these cavity nesters. Not only can they find a place to nest and roost, but the dead wood contains a smorgasbord of insect eggs, larvae and pupae.

The largest box elder, located in the backyard, was once our “swing tree”. Forty years ago it also held my brother’s tree house. Made out of scrap lumber, the tree house came complete with a sun roof, two escape routes, electricity and, I believe, some shag carpeting (it was the 70’s after all!). While the tree house in this large box elder once gave us kids a bird’s eye view of the yard, this past winter a Cooper’s Hawk, perched in the tree’s dead branches, had a bird’s eye view (pun intended) of the backyard bird feeders, which confirmed the fact that one of the benefits of snags (standing dead trees) is that the higher branches often serve as excellent look-outs for birds of prey!

According to the National Wildlife Federation “dead trees (either snags or fallen logs) provide vital habitat for more than a 1000 species of wildlife nationwide…. By some estimates the removal of dead material from forests can mean a loss of habitat for up to one-fifth of the animals in an ecosystem.” While mom’s box elders and the trees around them hardly make up a forest ecosystem, I do believe that the removal of the dying box elders would be a loss to the small ecosystem that surrounds my mom’s home.

The five remaining box elders in mom’s yard have guarded the property since before the family home was built in the mid-1950’s. No doubt, if my mom has anything to say about it, they’ll continue to do so for years to come, appealing to her artistic nature and proving to be a valuable asset to the local birds and mammals.


Need more info? Call Therese at 472-4421, or e-mail to

See some articles from our newsletter, Naturally Speaking.