RIVERTON, Iowa - October is probably the best opportunity to get caught in a traffic jam at Riverton.
The southwest Iowa community of 300 – plus or minus – is a top stop over for thousands of migrating birds and is one of Iowa’s premier waterfowl hunting destinations, drawing hunters by the hundreds.
The Riverton Wildlife Management Area butts up to the west side of town and covers nearly 4,000 acres of prime marshland and upland.
“We see about every species of waterfowl migrating through Riverton,” said John Ross, wildlife technician for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Nishnabotna Unit. The spring migration is a great time to see large numbers of shorebirds taking advantage of Riverton’s exposed mudflats.
The Riverton Area in central Fremont County is a few miles east of the wildly popular Waubonsie State Park that fills each October weekend with campers coming for the fall colors. In the spring, the focus shifts from the tree tops to the forest floor with mushroom hunters combing the park for highly prized fungi.
But for now, the fall colors are in full display and the old growth trees in the park put on quite a show, drawing leaf peepers from Nebraska, Missouri and all across Iowa.
Waubonsie caters to equestrians and non-equestrians who head to this rugged landscape in the Loess Hills to enjoy the miles of trails and scenery.
Matt Moles is the technician at the park and handles all the long distance calls about campsite availability, trail and tree color status and serves as the local tour guide.
The trails are extremely popular – north of Hwy. 2 is the equestrian area with eight miles of trails and south of Hwy. 2 is the non-equestrian area with seven miles of hiking trails including the Sunset Ridge trail and its stunning views into Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa and even Kansas.
“I think those trails are our greatest resource here,” Moles said.
Hunting, hiking and horseback riding are just three of the more than 30 activities listed on the DNR’s Healthy & Happy Outdoors campaign that is part of the Healthiest State Initiative to get Iowans active and outside.
Participation is easy. Simply log on at www.iowadnr.gov/h2o
and create an account, then use the online tools to search for or log each activity. Each logged activity counts as one entry in a monthly drawing for outdoor related prizes.
Waubonsie expanded in 2005 with the acquisition of the Girl Scout Camp Wa-Shawtee and renovated eight cabins into rentals available on the State Parks reservation system.
The cabins are extremely popular in the spring with birders, summer with everyone and the fall and winter with hunters looking for the total outdoor emersion.
Fremont and Mills County to its north, have more than 20,000 acres of public hunting land. The area is a waterfowl destination with Riverton, but hunters can pursue quail, pheasant, deer, turkey, doves, squirrels and more.
“There is a lot of ground to explore with limited access,” said Matt Dollison, wildlife biologist with the Iowa DNR’s Nishnabotna Unit. “It’s a paradise for someone not afraid to hoof it.”
One example is St. Mary’s Island, about 10 miles south of Council Bluffs, with nearly 2,400 acres of some of the best pheasant hunting in the area. It is not used as much as you’d expect being so close to such a large city.
That’s one example. There’s Lake Shawtee, Nottleman Island, Auldon Bar, Copeland Bend and more.
“The Corps of Engineers is buying up a lot of land in the Missouri River flood plain as part of their mitigation project,” Dollison said. “There is limited access to many of the areas, and once you get there you can have a remote experience.”