Pikes Peak offering variety of nature, recreational activities this summer

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Pikes Peak State Park is offering a variety of nature and recreational activities this summer. They are led by interpreter Vincent Schmelzer, pictured here showing animal furs to a group of kids. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


Pikes Peak State Park is offering a variety of nature and recreational activities this summer, ranging from kayaking and archery programs to wildlife viewing.


The activities are led by interpreter Vincent Schmelzer, who’s no stranger to the park located just south of McGregor, having served as a seasonal recreational aid that helps maintain the trail system. Schmelzer said he developed the programs after learning what worked well previous summers.


“I also went through training and got a lot of ideas from that,” he shared.


Something he does each Friday afternoon, and throughout the day on Saturday, is show visitors a collection of animal furs and skulls.


“I ask how many of them can guess what the animal is,” Schmelzer said.


He also takes a spotting scope and binoculars to the overlook, letting people get a closer look at the barges on the Mississippi River below, as well as beaver lodges and eaglets in a nearby eagle nest.


“I’m hoping to get a telescope at some point, so we can do some star gazing at night during the weekends,” Schmelzer added.


“I really enjoy interacting with people,” he said. “Doing the programs for kids is the most fun.”


Several special programs are also planned, including two free Kayak 101 sessions on Thursday, July 8. A morning session will run from 10 a.m. to noon and an afternoon session from 1 to 3 p.m., starting at the Sny Magill boat access. Kayaking 101 is open to attendees 12 and over, and kayaks and life jackets will be provided.


Schmelzer, who kayaks and canoes frequently, said this will be a good opportunity for beginners.


“A lot of people don’t know where to go, or they’re not comfortable going out on their own,” he said. “I will help them get into the water, feel it out and get their balance, then take them around the slough.”


Later on this summer, on July 29, Schmelzer will lead a trip down Johnson Slough for more experienced kayakers 16 and older. The trip will start at the McGregor boat access at 10 a.m. and end at the Sny Magill boat access. A limited number of kayaks will be available, or attendees may bring their own.


On July 10 and 24, Pikes Peak will hold introduction to archery programs. Schmelzer, who is also an avid bowhunter and certified archery instructor, will lead the events at Pikes Peak’s youth group area. Programs will be open to individuals eight and older, and children must be accompanied by an adult. Equipment will be provided, although participants are also welcome to bring their own.


“I’ll teach you to shoot, and we’ll have targets with rings and some 3D animal targets,” Schmelzer said.


“If the archery and kayak programs are popular, I may have more later in the summer,” he noted.


Then, on Saturday, Aug. 14, Pikes Peak will host its first trail run. People can register now through July 28 to receive a shirt, or sign up the day of the event, which will kick off at 10 a.m.


“It will be a 5K route, staying on some of the easier trails, and we’ll be opening up a service road for part of the route. It will be fairly flat, and you can run or walk—it’s just for fun,” Schmelzer explained. “We’re hoping to make this a recurring event and use the funds for the summer programs next year.”


Another upcoming date to watch is Saturday, July 17, which is a planned volunteer day. Meet staff at the main parking lot at 9 a.m. to help beautify the park. Schmelzer said activities will include trail work and removing invasive species, particularly wild honeysuckle. Lunch will be provided.


From July 19-23, Pikes Peak will be one of several state parks to host a University of Iowa Wildlife Camp. Camps, open to students entering grades 3-7, will offer a mixture of conservation education and adventure recreation. Activities will include studying the wildlife, such as mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish and insects, in addition to exploring the woodlands, wetlands, prairies and other natural habitats. Participants will also learn about park history and its unique geological and archaeological features. Sign up at recserv.uiowa.edu/wildlifecampsstateparks.


To learn more about—or sign up for—other activities at Pikes Peak State Park, contact Schmelzer at vincents@iastate.edu. Event information will be posted on the “Friends of Pikes Peak State Park” Facebook page as well.

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