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Experience the rugged beauty of the Loess Hills at Green Hollow and Blackburn areas

  • 9/12/2023 1:30:00 PM
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Tucked in to the southern end of the Loess Hills, within eyeshot of I-29 and nearly adjacent to Forney Lake, is the Green Hollow and Blackburn wildlife areas and state park complex in northwest Fremont County.

While not far off the interstate, actually finding the complex has a little “am I going the right way?” feel to it.

East through Thurman and north off of Plum Creek Road, on to a low maintenance “gravel” road that leads to the parking lot to Green Hollow Wildlife Area and, further back, to Blackburn State Park.

The relatively new 807-acre complex took shape after William and Sara Blackburn donated 151 acres in the Loess Hills to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in 2019. The Blackburn donation was divided into Blackburn State Park (72 acres) and Blackburn Wildlife Area (79 acres).

The Blackburn Wildlife Area links two parcels of Green Hollow creating nearly 2.5 miles of continuous public hunting land.

The terrain here is rugged – rolling hills, canyons and 30-foot sheer cliffs – with roughly 3.5 miles of unmarked, overgrown maintenance lanes available for hiking deep into the timber. These views are only seen by hikers and hunters willing to go off the beaten path.

The maintenance lane follows a narrow ridge to the northwest. The open understory makes seeing wildlife, hiking and hunting easier and more enjoyable. The DNR has developed a forest wildlife stewardship plan for the Loess Hills timber supporting red oaks, black oaks, bur oaks and chinkapin oaks that produce acorns which, in turn, support wildlife.

“It’s a nice walk in the oak timber and you’re not likely to see anyone else,” said Matt Dollison, wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Nishnabotna Unit. Pro tip – when walking through the timber, wave a stick head high out front to avoid walking through spiderwebs.

This is deer and turkey country that is a popular spot with squirrel hunters. A local producer works with the Iowa DNR to plant and manage the corn and soybean food plots and hayfields as part of an ag lease.

At the state park, a universally accessible platform by the pavilion extends into the timber providing unobstructed views into the forest. There is a vault latrine, but no water and visitors must carry out their trash. The pavilion and platform were constructed by the Blackburns and included as part of their donation.

Blackburn State Park has a mile-long marked and maintained hiking trail (no map) and features restored prairie on the ridges. Today, white wild indigo, partridge pea and whorled milkweed are showing in the mix of native grasses.

“William Blackburn did a good job with the prairie restoration,” Dollison said. “And the pavilion is a neat, out-of-the-way place for a family get together.”

Rare wildlife calls the area home

The Iowa DNR’s Multiple Species Inventory Monitoring Program, within the Wildlife Diversity section, visits Green Hollow annually to inventory species using the area and has confirmed some rare wildlife here.

Green Hollow supports the plains pocket mouse, western worm snake, northern prairie skink, least shrew, tri-colored bat, red-shouldered hawk, and rare butterfly’s hickory hairstreak, regal fritillary and zabulon skipper.