Tank of Gas Sportsman Getaways

By Earl Taylor

The thought of a fancy vacation, complete with Disney World or a visit to the Grand Tetons is every parent’s hope; but reality sets in when the billfold is thin and time off from work is limited. Sometimes, life consumes us. You may need to break up your time off into smaller, more affordable bites.

There are at least four things that adults and children can do together during the summer. Canoe down a river. Ride a bike on one of the many trails. Catch a fish. Sit around a campfire and tell stories and eat smores. That seems like a simple recipe, but it is a recipe that can generate great memories and can be done on a meager budget.

According to the book The Power of the Moments: Why Certain Experiences have Extraordinary Impact by Dan and Chip Heath, the authors describe a defining moment as a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful. They also state, “ that a defining moment rises above the-every-day. Defining moments rewire our understanding of ourselves or the world. Defining moments capture us at our best— moments of achievement, moments of courage. Defining moments are social: weddings, graduations, baptisms, vacations, work triumphs, sporting events. Defining moments are further strengthened because we shared them with others.”

As an adult, I am constantly bringing back the good old days in my mind; these great memories were defining moments in my young life. I have to be proactive in generating “defining moments” for those who follow me.

My favorite trips as a child were not complicated, well-designed events that took dollars and time; they were the times we piled into a 1950 Chevy and camped in and out of the car along a trout stream in northeast Iowa. It was the week-long snagging of carp below Dunbar Slough Dam as the fish tried to prepare to spawn. They were close to home, and they were with my Dad. Close to home still works today.

If you live in Iowa, you only need a tank of gas to create defining moments in your family’s lives. 50 bucks for gas can put you into a great outdoor experience.

Briggs Woods County Park offers everything for a young, active family. This park is the oldest county park in Iowa, dating back to 1921; it is located 4 miles south of Webster City off of Hwy. 17. Pack the boat, the bikes, the golf clubs and the fishing poles. Bring the camper or tent and stay in one of 79 campsites, or stay in one of their fully stocked cabins – complete with kitchen and air conditioning. Cabin housing available for 2 to 15 guests in one cabin.

The beauty of Briggs Woods is that its location along the Boone River. The river is one of central Iowa’s best rivers to float either in a canoe or a flat bottom boat. The 14 mile stretch from Briggs Woods access to where the Boone River dumps into the Des Moines River has six different boat access points that include an overnight camping spot at Bells Mill.

Canoes can be rented from Briggs Woods for $15 per canoe for 4 hours. Design your canoeing adventure with your family in mind. A 2 to 3-hour canoe trip is a long adventure for children under 5, but it is too short for teenagers who want to splash and play along the way. This section of the Boone River has four to seven feet drop per mile, which creates some gentle, but fun rapids to float. Look at the Iowa DNR website: www.iowadnr.gov.watertrails to find specific details about times and distances between canoe access points.

The river has great smallmouth bass and catfish opportunities. By floating slowly with a flat-bottom boat, you can stop above holes and throw either minnows, lures, or catfish bait. A late night floating adventure complete with a camp out on a sandbar with your child would create the elevated moment that will be long remembered. Leave Mom back at the nice cabin to enjoy the nearby bike trail that runs 5.7 miles back to Webster City. The 18- hole golf course is adjacent to the camping area. Check out Briggs Woods website at www.briggswoods.com

If the Boone River doesn’t have enough rapids to entertain your teenagers, head to Charles City to try out their paddling skills on the Whitewater Park located on the Cedar River. The park was created by removing a low head dam and engineering whitewater features in its place. The project was a joint effort with the support of numerous entities. In-river use includes kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, tubing and more. The flat water above and below the Whitewater Park is the perfect float and fish.

The river is known for its good population of smallmouth bass, rock bass, walleye, northern and catfish. The relatively steady flow of the Cedar makes this river navigable and enjoyable for a large portion of the year.

Rentals are available through Rapids End Outfitters located near the river, offering canoes, recreational kayaks and tubes. They will drop you off and pick you up for a three-hour trip from Floyd Bridge back into Charles City. Reach the outfitter at 641-220-2645. There is local camping in private campgrounds nearby. Check out the site at www.ccwhitewater.com.

Creston is 75 miles southwest of Des Moines. This small town is blessed with three reservoir lakes within shouting distance from downtown. Three-Mile Lake is operated by the Union County Conservation Board, while Twelve-Mile Lake and Green Valley Lake are operated by the DNR.

I believe in county parks; they operate with an understanding of how a park can enhance the county. Rates are reasonable, and each park has different amenities that families should take advantage of throughout the summer months. By looking online at www.mycountyparks.com, you can see what each lake site can offer. These county parks offer cabins, RV sites, and tent camping options.

Three Mile Lake offers nearly 400 acres of ski zone; this still gives the fisherman nearly 480 acres of quiet fishing water. However, the lake recently was drained, and all species of fish were killed to remove unwanted rough fish. Restocking took place in the spring of 2017. Union County has five different lakes, so if fish are not biting in one, it is only a quick drive to another lake.

On the north side of Three Mile Lake is a shooting range available at $5 per day per person. There are over 2500 acres of public hunting area close by as well. The Union County Conservation Board also offers canoe rentals.

You are never too old to ride a bicycle. Often Dads are a bit too intense on accomplishing something big like catching fish. A simple bike ride on one of Iowa’s paved bike trails can involve the entire family: young and old. Design the ride by matching length and steepness to your family’s abilities. Go to: www.iowabikeroutes.com/road to find every trail available in Iowa.

Plan a bike trip in addition to spelunking in the caves found at Maquoketa Cave State Park located near Maquoketa Iowa. The pure beauty of the park, combined with the adventure of exploring one of Iowa’s finest network of caves will challenge the entire family. The nearby Wapsipinicon River offers good fishing and canoeing.

The Missouri River; a river that Lewis and Clark found teeming with fish and wildlife 213 years ago is a different river today, but the tributaries that flow into it still offer some of the same beauty and adventure as it did for Lewis and Clark. The Little Sioux River flows from north of the Okoboji area into the Missouri River near Onawa.

There are nearly 600 acres and two campgrounds located on the Little Sioux just outside of Correctionville. This Woodbury County park has plenty of camping spots, cabins, a pond, and a 1.75-mile bike trail that wanders back towards Correctionville on a cement bike path. This river is similar to the Boone River and is full of blue cat and other species of fish that makes their way up from the Missouri River. The river is perfect to canoe with several boat access points along the way.

In every county in Iowa, there is recreation and adventure. It won’t take but a simple tank of gas to get you and your family outdoors; expensive vacations are nice, but what matters to a ten-year-old kid is that his Dad is alongside him sitting in a canoe, sitting next to a fire, or riding a bike trail along the river. The use of the MasterCard is not needed when you stay in Iowa- however, the times are still priceless.