Iowa Outdoors (#301)

Iowa Outdoors | Episode
Feb 9, 2013 |

Siepker: Welcome to Brown's Woods in central Iowa on the southern edge of our state's most populous metro area, Des Moines.

Kramer: The walking trails in this forest preserve are a reminder that Iowa's winter temperatures shouldn't prevent you from exploring outdoor opportunities.

Siepker: Many of which may be closer to home than you think.

In the middle of a harsh winter, most sailors dream of warm summer breezes that propel their boats across open water.  There are some sailors, however, who embrace the chilly winds of winter and look forward to when the lake freezes over.

Their ice boats can travel in excess speeds of 70 miles an hour.  That is fast enough to melt the ice in any sailor's veins, no matter how cold the weather.

When temperatures get below freezing and the added chill in the wind makes it feel much colder, most people stay indoors because the thought of being outside is unbearable.  However, there are some people who embrace the bitter winds and freezing temperatures because the cold brings the opportunity to enjoy hard water sailing.

Steve Swift: I enjoy being outside.  I also enjoy the adrenaline rush.  There's times to where you feel like you're almost out of control on these boats, they're going so fast.  It all depends, of course, on the wind.  But a lot of it is the adrenaline rush and going fast.

An ice boat can go three to five times faster than the speed of the wind.  That is because the sail on an ice boat actually acts like an airplane wing or air foil that creates lift which translates into speed.  And because there is very little drag or friction as an ice boat skates across the ice, it is possible to achieve incredible speeds.

Rex Bergo: Maybe it's maybe six years ago Birdsall with his GPS, he clocked 75.5 out here and we had perfect ice the whole lake so he had a good chance to get going and really carry it.  The conditions don't normally allow you to let it go like that.  So you work with what you've got.  Today we've got an extra ridge to worry about and you have to be careful out there and look for trouble because you have to respect water even if it is frozen.

At one time, ice boats were the fastest way to transport people or freight.  In 1871, the New York Times reported on a race on the Hudson River between a passenger train and the ice boats Zephyr and Icicle.  The newspaper reported the novel crafts passed the train at the rate of a mile a minute.

And in a 1935 newsreel, Chevrolet tested one of its cars against an ice boat.  According to the announcer, the Chevy was not only a more comfortable ride, it was also faster.

Announcer: It takes some speed to overtake an ice boat traveling with the wind.  Come on there, fellas, you're getting behind!

Steve Swift: Ice boats have been on this lake since this lake, since people moved onto this lake.  Our parents and grandparents had old stern steerers out here.  Back in the days when there wasn't anything else to do people would come out on the lake and ice skate or build weird boats and go out sailing.

At the turn of the century, ice boats were large and were steered with a tiller that turned a runner at the stern, much like a rudder on a sailboat.  Most modern ice boats are steered with a runner at the bow, or front of the boat, and are much smaller in size.  There are several classes of ice boats but the most popular is the DN.

Named after the Detroit News, the first DN was built in the newspaper's hobby shop in 1936.  Designed to be both inexpensive and something that could be built at home, the boat is twelve feet long and carries 60 feet of sail.  Today, the International DN Ice Yacht Racing Association has around 2,000 members.

Rex Bergo: This is a DN that I made about four or five years ago.  It is ash sides and the runner plank is out of ash.  And the walnut accents are trees that I actually feel, dried and then milled.  So I got all my hands on this one.  Most of the fun is doing that too.  Of course it's great to utilize it as well.  So just something about being on the ice.

It's been said that people who enjoy ice boating spend as much time preparing their boats as they do sailing them.  At the speeds the boats are capable of achieving, imperfections in the ice can do a lot of damage.  And there are years when the weather doesn't provide many opportunities to sail.

Rex Bergo: Some of the guys say it's the safest sport around because some years you don't even get to do it.  And that's true.  I mean, if the snow comes in too quickly it is over, over before it started.

Safety is a major concern for anyone involved in ice boating. Helmets are every bit as important as warm clothing and ice picks are worn around the neck just in case a boat goes through the ice.  Jim Anastasi credits the ice picks with saving his life when he went through the ice in 2011.

Jim Anastasi: It was a Sunday morning, came home from church and two of my friends were out here and we had 29 mile an hour winds and it was a wonderful, wonderful wind.  I just wasn't paying attention where I was and I did a jibe and as I came around it was right there, it was open water.  I was in there probably for ten minutes but able to climb out. We all wear picks.  If it wasn't for the picks I wouldn't be here.  It was a wonderful day to sail but that ended it quickly.

Most ice boaters are sailors, who during the summer are on the lake when the weather isn't nearly as cold and the water is in a much more liquid state.  Ice boating allows them the opportunity to enjoy the lake and the outdoors year round.

Rex Bergo: I sure do love the sport.  They're great guys to be with and certainly on an Iowa day like this where the sun is shining and you've got ice and not much else to do, ice boating is fantastic.

More than two miles of trails wind their way through Iowa's largest urban forest preserve here at Brown's Woods in West Des Moines.

This 484 acre forest features a canopy of oak and hickory trees stretching from hilltops to the Raccoon River.

Visitors to this woodland preserve are banned from cutting or removing the protected timber of Brown's Woods.  But come spring thaw, these shaded hilltops are prime ground for mushroom hunters.

Preserving the rolling hills and small streams of Brown's Woods is a tale that dates back more than 100 years.  A successful Des Moines lawyer, Tallmadge E. Brown, acquired large tracks of land around Des Moines in the late 1800s. One of them was this beautiful forest known today as Brown's Woods.

For generations, the beautiful streams of northeast Iowa have been a haven for trout fishermen.  To meet growing demand, the hardworking staff of the Iowa DNR are constantly building the next generation of brook and rainbow trout.  In recent years, the trademark rainbow of northeast Iowa's trout streams are spreading across the state and could be closer to home than you think.

In the depths of an Iowa winter some fishermen descend in their own version of hibernation, seeding our lakes and streams to only the hardiest of anglers.  But inside an Iowa DNR hatchery, a team of fishery experts is giving every Iowans a reason to rediscover cold weather angling. 

On a crisp winter morning near Manchester, DNR staff wade through a series of outdoor raceways.  Each concrete channel houses hundreds of adult rainbow trout.  By mid-January, this batch of rainbows has reached a fertility climax as the ripe females swim with bulging egg filled bellies.

The freshly plucked fish are shipped inside to build what DNR staff call the backbone of Iowa's trout program.

Dave Marolf: What we do in a controlled environment here at the fish hatchery is a great improvement on the survival that we could expect in the same process that occurs naturally in our streams.

The females are temporarily dipped into an anesthetic bath before staff firmly massage their bellies into a steady stream of golden eggs.  Male trout are then utilized to fertilize those same eggs.

Dave Marolf:  Once water is added to this mixture of semen and eggs, fertilization occurs within seconds.  There are literally billions of sperm cells in this mixture.

Fertilized eggs rest in trays for 30 days under a constant flow of 52 degree water.

Dave Marolf: That is called the eyed eggs stage, when you can see the eye through the eggshell you know you can handle the egg without damaging the developing embryo.  That's when we first look at these eggs again.

The process is repeated over and over to create a staggering number of fish, more than 250,000 trout for Iowa's aquatic ecosystem.

Dave Marolf: We pick out any white, dead, organic matter.  These are some eggs that have died during the incubation process.  There's some eggs that were never fertilized.  But all of the white has to be picked from these eggs.

The fertilized eggs of January 2013 will be half pound trout in 2014.  At that stage, the DNR raised fish will be released into nearly 50 northeast Iowa streams and increasingly into urban lakes around our state.  To witness the reach of Iowa DNR's urban stocking program, just take a look at how far the staff will travel.  In this case, more than five hours and hundreds of miles from the Big Spring Hatchery in northeast Iowa to Council Bluffs on the Missouri River.

Wayne Wingert: We usually start loading early in the morning, get them loaded on and then the fish fall really well.  As long as you can keep the temperature and the oxygen on the fish then they'll haul a long time, stay on the truck and look really healthy.

After opening up a slice of big lake in Council Bluffs, 1,000 rainbow trout are pumped underneath the frozen surface. 

Bryan Hayes: The whole state of Iowa is cold water at least six months out of the year so from mid-October to mid-April we can bring trout into places like Council Bluffs and create that fishing we're looking for.

Families of experienced and first-time fishermen have been waiting all day for a chance to catch a fish found more often on the other side of Iowa.

Wayne Wingert: The truck was 48 degrees and we'll see what the lake is.  You don't want the temperature difference between the two to be too drastic or it can be hard on the fish.  Right at 40.

According to the Iowa DNR, urban stocking rose from just three ponds 25 years ago to 16 quarries, ponds and small lakes this winter, each one bringing trout directly to the people of Iowa.

John Batt: It has taken pretty good hold as far as people getting out and getting the trout stamp and using the facility.  I think the DNR officials have said that it increased tremendously the first two years.  I think it quadrupled because you didn't have the trout fishing on this part of the state.

Those first-time winter anglers can use that annual trout fee to head to northeast Iowa in the spring, summer or fall.  In the meantime, thousands of people who may never have fished or tasted trout are hooked for years to come.

Bryan Hayes: We love to see the kids come out.  We encourage parents to bring the kids out, expose them to fishing.  Kids gravitate naturally to it.  They have a ball.  The trout provide an easy fish to catch for kids and it's a big part of the program.

The comeback of the American Bald Eagle is so successful, it can be hard for today's children to believe there were only 400 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states in the 1960s.  Passing on the legacy of the bald eagle to future generations is why we dispatched Iowa PBS's own Dan Wardell to see how young Iowans can enjoy a conservation success story.

Dan Wardell: More than 100 children here at Central College in Pella are about to experience a raptor for the very first time and they may never view birds the same way ever again.

We thought DDT was great, it was killing all the bugs on our crops and that was wonderful.  But that chemical was making its way into the food chain.  It was causing their eggshells to be soft because it was taking calcium out of their body.

The talented staff from the University of Minnesota's Raptor Center know what everyone is here to see, the main event for every youngster.  For most of the kids in this audience, this is the first time they've seen an eagle in person and up close.

If another bird came too close to an eagle, like a crow or something like that, these guys generally don't bother with them.  It takes them more energy to do something with that crow, they'll just fly away.

The 40-minute show-and-tell session is one of the best ways to teach young Iowans about the comeback story of the American Bald Eagle and how the once endangered species has thrived through conservation.

I learned that they really aren't bald.

I learned that the bald eagle eats mice.

While an indoor bald eagle show may be the closest you'll physically be to America's bird, a true appreciation comes from watching an elegant scavenger in its natural environment.  The best location to spot bald eagles during an Iowa winter is wherever the open water is.  The colder the weather, the more likely you are to see large numbers of eagles along the river, like the Des Moines here in central Iowa.

Bald Eagle Days below Red Rock Dam are a perfect example of wintertime open water.  The talented video team here at Iowa PBS has plenty of tools and equipment to bring you beautiful eagle images.  But you can spot bald eagles with your own eyes.  Just make sure to bring with you some warm clothing, binoculars and some patience.

Now you've got complete control of this.  You can move it down, up. 

Pat Schlarbaum: You can hear the awe.  It's one thing I like to do once they get on an eagle and then magnify it and their brother or sister will see it and then they all want to see it and oh, can you see it, oh yeah.  Then they go whoa!  Then you know they see it and it's the key to passing along this fascination of what an eagle could bring to our lives.

It can take years for a juvenile bald eagle to turn fully white.  If you spot an eagle without a completely white head it could be a rare golden eagle, but most likely it is a bald eagle less than five years of age.

Pat Schlarbaum: And when they see the live birds in the indoor program that, you can't put a value on that other than priceless.  They'll remember it the rest of their lives.

It doesn't matter if it is spring, summer, fall or winter, in nature in Iowa there's always something worth exploring.

For Kip Ladage, who is the emergency management coordinator for Bremer County, each season provides an opportunity to focus on something new and different. 

Ladage's passion is nature photography.  But it's hard to tell if he gets more enjoyment from taking the pictures or sharing what he has found with others.

Kip Ladage: I started shooting photos about 30 years ago just before my son was born and the intent was to shoot photos of his growth and then my daughter's but I guess my interest became more wildlife and then people and it has just progressed from there.

Kip Ladage can't tell you how many photographs he has taken of Iowa's wildlife, but he can tell you how many he has kept.  He says in the 30 years he has been taking pictures that he is just shy of 190,000 images on file.  With that many photographs, it shouldn't be a surprise that he spends a lot of time outdoors.

Kip Ladage: I used to hunt and fish a lot but it was when I was up in the tree stand seeing other things that I wasn't hunting that I realized, boy, there's so much out here to share with others that I started to carry a camera.  And I quickly learned that I can't carry a camera in one hand and a bow in the other hand and do either one of them very well.  I had to decide which one am I going to do, which one am I going to concentrate on.  I still hunt a little bit but mostly I hunt year round with the camera now, with my Nikon.

Ladage works in Bremer County as an emergency management coordinator where he assists agencies as they plan, train and respond to disaster situations, emergencies that range from fires and tornadoes to missing persons and Hazmat spills.

Kip Ladage: I've got a job that tends to be stressful at times and when I go out in the woods I can put the job behind me and just sit and watch.  I spend a lot of time watching, more time watching than I do shooting.

Ladage enjoys photographing anything wild and he'll point his camera at whatever catches his eye, even if he's busy shooting a different subject.  On one occasion, he was shooting a troop of fox pups when he noticed an unusual butterfly.

Kip Ladage: I was actually working at a fox den and noticed an unusual butterfly and I didn't even know that the American snout butterfly existed but I stopped everything I was doing with the fox and got fascinated with the butterfly because I didn't know butterflies had snouts like this one does.  So I learned something that day and just keep an open mind and there's something to see.

There's a wide variety of wildlife in the nearly 190,000 photos Ladage has saved.  His collection has just about everything including backyard songbirds.  He does, however, have one subject that he is particularly fond of.

Kip Ladage: If the weather is cooperative, give me my kayak, put my camo blind on top of it, let me go shoot Great Blue Herons.  I've got a fascination with Great Blue Herons.  I've got probably thousands and thousands of images of Great Blue Herons but there's always room for another one.

When he's out shooting, Kip covers his camera and wears camouflage.  He says it's not always needed but there are situations where it makes a difference.

Kip Ladage: When I'm doing Great Blue Herons, the water species out there, especially early in the season when they first moved into the, you know, migrated up, they're not used to me being out there so then I'm in full camo and it could be a ghillie suit or it could be what I'm wearing now.  I sometimes even wear a mask just to break the pattern up.  But you don't need the camouflage but I tend to believe it helps, especially if you want to get close for photos.

Ladage says every night he works for at least an hour on his photographs and website.  He keeps a database of all his pictures that he says helps him better understand the wildlife he's shooting and makes him a better photographer.  And his website is a way he can share his work with others.

Kip Ladage: My website is a large collection of images that is broken down either you can search by categories, mammals, birds and then further broke down.  I have posted pictures every day for the last I believe four years now.  Generally I try to make that wildlife but with life sometimes it is something different than that.  And then I also almost daily post just a general blog type entry I guess of thoughts that hit my mind.  It might be wildlife, it might be my granddaughter, it might be work-related.  Who knows.  But I kind of put myself out there in the open and let people get a snapshot of my life.

Kip's work has been published in numerous magazines.  But he is also self-published.  The photos and thoughts that he posts on his website has turned into a series of books which are titled Moments with Iowa's Wildlife.  Ladage has also written a book that identifies the birds found at backyard feeders in Iowa and another that teaches the alphabet using things found in nature.

Kip Ladage: I've seen so many things and I've been blessed to witness the maturing of fox at the den and a couple of years ago got to watch as the trumpeter swans were hatching and when the little swans climbed over the nest and went into the water for the first time.  There's something about those interactions that it's hard -- words don't describe it but it's fascinating, it's addicting.  It draws you back day after day.

That wraps up this wintertime edition of Iowa Outdoors.  Our Iowa PBS crew will be criss-crossing the state in the months to come bringing you the best of Iowa's outdoor environments.

And you can help by submitting your ideas and suggestions to

Be sure to check out our growing online video archive of more than 50 features all about Iowa's outdoor conservation and recreation.

We leave you with some images of winter in Iowa.