I am in love with Northeast Iowa. I never meant to stay, but something about the place just grabbed hold. Now that the sun is shining, the snow is melting and the air no longer hurts my face, am nearly giddy with anticipation of all that is ahead. Here are 10 things to get you out of your winter cocoon and back into experiencing life in our wonderful corner of the state.
1. Bike Trails - Did you know Iowa has almost 2000 miles of bike trails? I am willing to wager that some of the most beautiful have to be right here in NEIA! Whether you are checking out the Prairie Farmer Trail, Trout Run Trail or mountain bike trails, there is so much to see. Don’t have a bike? Rent one from from Decorah Bicycles!
2. Hiking - Speaking of mountain bike trails, Decorah Human Powered Trails has done an excellent job of making and maintaining over 20 miles of trails for bikers, hikers and trail runners in and around Decorah. Whether you are want a leisurely walk or a heart-pumping hike, there are trails here for you! Well worth exploration. Looking for something a little further off the beaten path? Yellow River State Forest it is!
3. The Driftless Drift - This low-impact event, geared toward showcasing all the beauty that NEIA has to offer is ‘drifting’ from the beautiful Allamakee County location in 2013 to the lovely village of Bluffton in 2014. Full of music, hiking, biking, and canoeing the Driftless Drift is a wonderful way to ‘stay-cation’ and recreate in the great outdoors. The event is tentatively scheduled for the second weekend in July.
4. The Courtyard & Cellar! - Two Decorah chaps are continuing to bring lively fun to Decorah’s downtown through expansion of the Courtyard on Water Street. Coming very soon, the Courtyard & Cellar will be a wonderful addition & location to gather rain or shine for fantastic craft beer, tunes, triva and fun! Check out this blog for more information!
5. Farmer’s Markets - Whether you are a gardener, a foodie, or just want some home-grown (or baked!) goodness, there are many farmer’s markets to visit (Decorah, Waukon, Cresco, West Union, Cedar Falls, & Waterloo to list a few.) Supporting local growers is a wonderful way to invest in the vibrant community that exists in NEIA. Are you traveling around Iowa and want to check out markets in other areas of the state? Use this link for a searchable database.
6. Gardening! - When it comes to growing things, NEIA is resource rich! From world renound Seed Saver’s Exchange north of Decorah to dreamy K&K Gardens in Hawkeye, the Pepperfield Project & NEIA Food and Fitness Initiative to Decorah Urban Garden’s...there are hundreds of people working and volunteering to grow and help others grow real food. (Yes. Real food. As opposed to unreal food derived from test tubes and made of chemicals with names you cannot pronounce.) There are way too many local experts to name. New to growing? Check out the classes offered throughout the season (listed here on page 12-13 of Oneota Community Co-op's Scoop publication. Want a garden mentor? Check out Decorah Urban Gardens on Facebook
7. Flea Markets, Antique Stores & DIY projects - Northeast Iowa has antique stores galore - some are just a little easier to find than others. Favorites? What’s New Antiques north of Decorah has everything from antique jewelry to architectural salvage. Definitely worth the drive out of town. Turkey River Mall in Elkader has multiple stories of old goodness (and be sure to stop by Shera’s Restaurant when you are done for some delicious Algerian fare). Need some (non-Pinterest) inspiration for upgrading your finds? Visit the ladies at Furniture Re-Do in Cresco. They’ve made reasonably-priced DIY up-cycling their business and do a darn fine job.
8. Highlandville Dances - Ever watched people of all ages waltz, polka and schottische? Joy. Accompanied by the fantastic Footnotes, this is an evening you won’t forget. Think waltzing is super un-cool? Go anyway. Dance. It will change your mind completely.
9. Canoes, Kayaks and Tubes, Oh My! - Whether you are getting out on the Mississippi, Upper Iowa, Yellow or Turkey rivers or Crane Creek (once voted the most beautiful kayaking waterway in Iowa!) get out there and explore. I’m often struck how viewing our ‘back yard’ in this way can make it feel like a whole new world. Need to rent any modality of river transport? Here's what you need to know.
10. Mushrooms and Wild Raspberries - To be honest, I may be the world’s worst mushroom hunter. However, put me up against nearly anyone and I will bet on my own mushroom eating abilities. Thankfully, I have a few friends who love the hunt and hate to eat them. I’m glad to beg, borrow or buy what they’ve got when my own search proves fruitless. Wild raspberries, or blackcaps, on the other hand are easy. Just walk in the woods. They’ll literally reach out and get you. Interested in getting into it but don’t want to choose poorly? This website has listed great resources to get you started.
Community is what makes this area so wonderful. Whether or not you are inclined to try the stuff listed above, I hope you’ll join me in throwing open the door and doing something. Step away from whatever screen has been keeping you company this winter. Say hi to a neighbor (or meet a neighbor when you bring over some raspberry cobbler). Be an observer. Be a do-er. Just don’t allow yourself to be bored (there will be plenty of time for that next winter).
What'd I miss? I'd love to hear from you.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.