Treading Lightly

By CJ Younger on March 10, 2022 in Blog

Henderson Woods volunteers

Early last June, two dozen volunteers came together to build a professionally designed, sustainable hiking trail through an idyllic corner of woodland in Humboldt County. Their hard work honored the vision Vic and Jan Lothe had when they donated the land to Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) in 2009.

Bordered by the Des Moines River and two recreation areas, Henderson Woods provided a unique opportunity to connect existing public land, providing a place for people to wander largely uninterrupted in nature on the edge of Humboldt. At the same time, creating access to and through the woodland in a way that met the donors’ wishes was imperative.

“It was a special place for me growing up,” Jan Lothe said of the 15-acre woodland and oak savanna property, known locally as Henderson Woods, which raised generations of her family. “I wanted to keep it as pristine as possible.”

The Lothes were open to people hiking through the property, but most multi-use trails in Iowa are paved or constructed of crushed limestone, which often requires clearing trees and disrupting the area’s natural structures – out of the question for Henderson Woods. It wasn’t until Todd Lee, director of Humboldt County Conservation (HCC), which manages the neighboring recreation areas, approached INHF and suggested exploring a natural trail that the pieces began to fall into place.

Forging a new path

Together, INHF and HCC hired Pete Englund of Legacy Trails — an Iowa-based company dedicated to sustainable trail design, education, maintenance and construction — to map out a sustainable route through the property. Maintenance concerns and the property’s proximity to the river made drainage an important factor to consider. Englund evaluated where water would run during rain or flooding and laid the trail out along ridges and natural hills to minimize the impact of water flowing over the trail.

The Lothes’ desire to disrupt the land as little as possible may have resulted in a more complex trail build. However, INHF was determined to respect the Lothes’ original intent.

“We’re donor-centric,” said INHF President Joe McGovern. “We will always strive to live up to the donor’s wishes. Documenting that vision early and up-front is the key to long-term protection and restoration.”

Henderson Woods trail

New connections

Once the Lothes gave their blessing to the project, INHF and HCC organized a volunteer event for June 5, 2021 — National Trails Day. Lee and several of INHF’s staff were on-site for the weekend, which turned out to be one of the hottest — and most rewarding — of the summer. Volunteers included the Humboldt High School’s girls cross country team and members of a local Scouting troop.

“People coming together to work toward a common goal — it’s a feel-good thing,” Lee said. “At the end of the day, everybody shook hands, everyone was happy. There was a sense of accomplishment, like you gave something back to the community.”

The new half-mile trail, which opened this summer, now connects Sheldon Park to Scout’s Island, increasing access to natural and recreational areas from the city of Humboldt.

While many people came together to help create the trail, its beginning and end can be traced back back to the Lothes’ original intent: preserving their land for quiet enjoyment.

“I just hope people will enjoy being out in nature and the natural beauty of what the land has to offer,” Jan said.