One of the most peaceful spots in Iowa is a only a 90 minute drive from the Des Moines metro. Located just east of Coon Rapids, Whiterock Conservancy is over seven square miles of river bottoms, prairie, wetlands, savannas and woodlands. It is a special spot in Iowa devoted to conservation efforts, public education, and outdoor recreation.
Whiterock Conservancy is not just rich in nature, it is rich in history as well. Visited by Khrushchev during his trip to Iowa in 1959, the former farmland was home to Roswell Garst, the developer of hybrid seed corn and executive for Garst Seed Company. Selling his corn to the Soviets, Garst played a key role in improving the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. Despite Roswell’s death in 1977, his family continues the legacy by playing a role in the preservation of the diverse landscape, wildlife and habitat now known as Whiterock Conservancy.
Located within the conservancy is one of Iowa’s 18 Bird Conservation Areas. The the goal of a BCA is to protect game and non-game birds along with their habitat. At Whiterock, The Raccoon River Savanna Bird Conservation Area is a refuge to hundreds of Iowa’s bird species. It is also a location used by SOAR for releasing rehabilitated raptors back into the wild.
Whiterock has a wide variety of activities. Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, canoeing, and kayaking are some of the many options. Educational opportunities also take place throughout the year with various workshops and seminars conducted here. Visitors can spend the night at the conservancy with lodging options ranging from guest rooms at the historic Garst Farmhouse, cottage or cabin rental, to camping under the stars.
The conservancy has a great trail system with over 30 miles to explore. Trails take visitors through oak savanna, prairie, and forest. They also pass wetlands, farmland, and the Middle Raccoon River.
The Bike Ride
The plan for our afternoon visit included fishing, biking, and a picnic. Using the visitor center as the trailhead we unloaded gear and headed out on the trial. The guys walked to one of the fishing ponds while I explored the Garst Farm trail.
Over 6 miles of crushed limestone, this trail has some significant climbs and fantastic views. Eagles on their nest were viewable from the trail along with a family of buffalo. I scared up several deer on my ride and saw many wildflowers and birds. At the top of one of the climbs was an art installation and a little plaque attached to a post reminding me to smile. I even spotted a sign indicating jackalope! Didn’t see any of the “fearsome critters” though.
After completing the Garst Farm route I decided to explore the Main Trail. While beautiful, this dirt trail was a bit out of my league. I had to walk my bike up (and then down) several of the rocky and steep climbs. Learning the art of mountain biking looks to prove challenging!
It was a quiet day at the conservancy. I saw only a couple of people while out on the trail. My son and husband were the only anglers at the pond and we had the picnic area all to ourselves. We enjoyed our picnic at the Visitor Center while listening to pheasants cackling and the sounds of dicksissel’s singing.
The afternoon wasn’t long enough to do all the exploring Whiterock Conservancy has to offer. We promised to return soon to ride more of the trails and perhaps see that jackalope! Finding peace and quiet along with Iowa’s natural glory is certainly easy to do at Whiterock Conservancy.