Recreation

Bird Watching

Jefferson County Conservation Board, Fairfield, Iowa

Recreation Opportunities in Jefferson County.

Please note the Jefferson County Conservation Board Rules and Regulations. Thank you.

Local Birders Choose Their Favorites.

fawn

Jefferson County Park.
Jefferson County Park is 228 acres in size and is the nucleus of the Jefferson County Conservation Board program. It is located just southwest of Fairfield; 1.3 miles west of Highway 1 on Libertyville Road. Although some of the areas in Jefferson County Park are developed, other parts remain untouched.

Local birders like the park's varied habitats with prairie, woodland and ponds found along its seven miles of trails. One birder, who walks the park everyday, specified that she sees and hears more birds along the 1/2 mile entrance road than on any other trails.

Parking areas can be found at the north access off 32nd Street, in the park by the nature center and in the picnic area. A bird blind, located behind the nature center, is maintained from mid-October to May. The 3.5 acre pond near shelter #3 is a good location for spring warblers in May. Over 130 species of birds have been recorded in the park.

pelicans

Cedar Creek Wetlands and Cedar View Trail.
Cedar Creek Wetlands is a great location for migrating waterfowl and pelicans in March and April but you'll have to do a bit of walking along the Cedar View Trail to get there. The trail parking lot is west of Fairfield off 32nd street. A half mile amble west and you'll see a trail that drops down into the wetland. Please note that there are no manicured trails in the wetland area itself although the Jefferson County Conservation staff usually brush mows some trails to provide access for maintenance vehicles and to be used as fire breaks.

On wetter than usual years it is not possible to get tractors in the area to mow and you may find yourself blazing your own trail. (Note: Cedar View Wetlands is open for hunting so please be aware of waterfowl hunting seasons.)

If you've got a spotting scope and you just want to see the wetland without getting your feet wet, there is a waterfowl observation deck, constructed by the Jefferson County Trails Council, that sits up on Cedar View Trail. If you happen to be in the area during the first two weeks in May, when warbler migration is at its peak, consider heading a bit farther west down Cedar View Trail to Cedar View Bridge. The bridge spans 400 feet and because of its height (65 feet high over Cedar Creek) it can often put you at eye level with those warblers that are feeding in the canopy along the tree-lined creek.

grebe

Neff Wetlands and Lamson Woods.
If you love wetlands but don't want to walk a long ways to get to one, then the Neff Wetland is a great birding spot for you. Local birders love the easy accessibility of this 35 acre area with Fairfield's Loop Trail running right through the center. Over 100 species of birds have been counted here including the pied-billed grebe in the photo above. It is also adjacent to Lamson Woods, a 43-acre state preserve which gives visitors an additional location for woodland birding.

Parking for both the Neff Wetlands and Lamson Woods can be found at the intersection of East Fillmore Ave and Mint Blvd. From the Fairfield square head south on Highway 1. When you reach Fillmore take a left. You'll stay on Fillmore until you come to Mint, which is a t-intersection. Ahead and to your right you'll see the entrance to the parking lot.

woodcock

Woodthrush Woods State Preserve.
This small 25-acre wooded area was originally owned by Hiram Heaton, a naturalist who loved birds. It is a bit of a hidden gem and is considered a favorite by one of the local birders solely because it is a good place to locate American Woodcock in mid to late March.

To get to the park you'll want to head east out of Fairfield on Highway 34 until you reach Tamarack Ave. Turn south (right) and go 1 mile to 225th Street, which curves to the east. Park on the shoulder of 225th Street slightly before its intersection with Teak Avenue. The preserve is on the north (left) side of the road. Currently, it is not well marked. You'll have to walk down into the ditch to get into the preserve. The area once had a walking trail but it is mostly overgrown at this time. You'll need to work your way around the area by following deer trails.

Pleasant Plain Lake.
There are three local birders that regularly bird Pleasant Plain Lake, but not from the Loop Trail that is adjacent to it or from the small walking trails on its east and west sides but from ON the lake. According to these birders this area is best birded by kayak.

This former city reservoir covers over 40 acres so a slow paddle around its perimeter, with lots of stops to look at birds, is easily done in a few hours. To find this site head north of Fairfield's town square until you reach Kirkwood Ave. Head east (right) and Kirkwood will eventually become Pleasant Plain Road as it heads northeast out of town. The lake will be on your left.

meadowlark

Need more info? Call Therese at 472-4421, or e-mail to therese@jeffersoncountyconservation.com

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Camping is allowed in 3 areas.

Jefferson County Park has a campground, and camping cabins.

Mac Coon Access has a campground.

Round Prairie Park has a campground.

Scroll down for more information.

Camping in Jefferson County Park

Campers

Twenty-four camp sites are open May 1 through October 31, and include electricity and water.

Modern restrooms, hot showers, drinking water, a small shelter house, playground equipment and a trailer waste-dump station are all provided for the camper.

Camping fees are modest. See fees, or contact us directly. Reservations can not be made.

Camping Cabins

Cabin

Two 12' x 16' sleeping cabins with 4' x 12' porches were constructed at the west end of the camp area in 1996.

Each cabin sleeps six people and comes equipped with a refrigerator, microwave oven, table and chairs, air conditioner, picnic table, potable water and a fire ring. See cabin rules as a PDF.

Cabin rental fees are modest. Also, see Camping Cabin Rules as a PDF.

Reservations are required, May 1 through October 31. See fees, or contact us directly for fees and reservations.

(More about Jefferson County Park).

Camping in Mac Coon Access

Camp in Mac Coon Access

The 20-site campground includes electricity, pit latrine toilets, a shelter house, a well for potable water, playground equipment, a concrete boat ramp, and a fish cleaning station. Camping is allowed year round, but electricity may not be available and the well does not operate in the winter.

Camping fees are modest. See fees, or contact us directly. Reservations can not be made.

(More about Mac Coon Access).

Camping in Round Prairie Park

Campground at Round prairie Park

The 12-site campground is equipped with electricity, drinking water, a shelter house, restrooms, and playground equipment. It is open year round, although electricity and water may not be available in winter.

Camping fees are modest. See fees, or contact us directly. Reservations can not be made.

(More about Round Prairie Park).

NOTE for all camping areas:

⚫ Camping fees shall be collected daily in the amount set by the conservation board.
⚫ No person shall camp in any designated camping area for a period longer than 14 consecutive days and, in no event, longer than 14 days in any 21 day period.
⚫ See Rules Webpage for more Conservation Board rules and regulations.

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Fees & Reservations

User fees help fund utilities, general maintenance, and improvements.

Fee and Reservation information is below. (See camping for details of camping areas).

Scroll down for more information.

Jefferson County Park

Camping Site fees: $17 with electricity/$14 without per night.
⚫ Reservations: Can not be reserved.
⚫ Season: April 29 through October 31.

Camping Cabin fees: $45 for one night, $40 per night for 2 or more nights. Weekly rate: $240 (limit of two weeks).
⚫ Reservations: Required. A $50 deposit will be required at time of registration. Contact us directly to make reservations.
⚫ Season: May 1 through October 31.
⚫ See camping for cabin details.

Picnic Shelter fees (per 6-hour period): $20 for Shelter # 3, $15 for Shelters # 1 and 2.
⚫ Reservations: May be made for one (or both) 6-hour periods. Period one is from 10AM to 3:30PM, period two is from 4:30PM to 10PM.
⚫ Season: Normally May 1 through October 31.

Gazebo fee: $10 per 6-hour period (same as shelters) or it can be rented in conjunction with shelter #3 for $5.00.   See it here.
⚫ Season: Normally May 1 through October 31.

Mac Coon Access

Camping Site fees: $12 with electricity/$9 without per night.
⚫ Reservations: Can not be reserved.
⚫ Season: All year-around.

Picnic Shelter: No fees, no reservations.

Round Prairie Park

Camping Site fees: $12 with electricity/$9 without per night.
⚫ Reservations: Can not be reserved.
⚫ Season: All year-around.

Picnic Shelter: No fees, no reservations.

NOTE for all camping areas:

⚫ Camping fees shall be collected daily in the amount set by the conservation board.
⚫ No person shall camp in any designated camping area for a period longer than 14 consecutive days and, in no event, longer than 14 days in any 21 day period.
⚫ See Rules Webpage for more Conservation Board rules and regulations.
⚫ See Rules for Camping Cabins as a PDF.

Contact us for the latest information.

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Land Trails (Hiking, Biking, and Cross-country Skiing)

Welcome to the Trails of Jefferson County Park

Trail

Come explore and enjoy the seven miles of trails within Jefferson County Park. The woodland trails are surfaced with lime chips while those through prairie and grassland areas are mowed. The trails provide year round enjoyment for walkers, joggers, and bicyclists. The trails are also great in the winter for cross-country skiers.

The trails take you through dense areas of native woodlands, pine tree plantings, along reintroduced prairies, and prairie savannas. You can also go around and over ponds, streams and ravines. The trails offer a terrain to suit everyone's pleasure. From straight and flat, to curvy and hilly.

Several bridges, including a 75-foot swinging bridge, add to the charm and character of the trails.

Almost two miles of the trail including the park entrance road are on the former Rock Island Railroad right-of-ways which served Jefferson County from 1871 to 1980.   See the History of the Railroads in Fairfield.

Wildlife abound in the park. Deer, raccoons, opossums, groundhogs, squirrels, and chipmunks as well as a variety of song and game birds are common sights on the trails. A variety of flowers decorate the park throughout the growing season: In spring the woodlands are filled with spring beauties, mayapples and trillium and in late summer and fall the prairies are colored with sunflowers and asters. In mid summer you can stop along the trails to snack on raspberries, blackberries and wild plum.

blackberry

For more detailed information about the length and topography of the various trail segments within the park see the "color coded" trail map (aerial photo) at the kiosk at the trailhead at the main parking lot near the Nature Center. There are "color-coded" arrow signs along the various trail segments to help you keep on the route that you desire.

The Jefferson County Park's trail system ties into Cedar View Trail which leads to the city of Libertyville, and the Cedar View Trail connects to the Fairfield Loop Trail which encircles the city of Fairfield.

We also have information in the Kiosk and at the Nature Center about other area trails including literature about the Jefferson County Trails Council and the Fairfield Loop Trail.

We strive to keep the trails in good shape for your enjoyment. If you see situations that need our attention, such as down trees or limbs, trail erosion or washouts, or trash, please stop by the Office/Nature Center, or let any park employee know of them so that we can quickly solve the problem.

Enjoy Jefferson County Park and its trails!

Other Trails in the JCCB system

Hiking trails are also located in Mac Coon Access, Round Prairie Park , Zillman's Hickory Hills, and Whitham Woods.

Biking trails include, of course, the Cedar View Trail. Bikes may also be used on Jefferson County Park trails.

There are designated horse trails in the Turkey Run Wildlife Area.

For cross-country skiing, go to Zillman's Hickory Hills, Whitham Woods, and Cedar View Trail.

Snow

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History (Heritage) Trail

First Carnegie Public Library, early postcard

The Jefferson County Trails Council website hosts the Fairfield Heritage Trail. See over 50 historic buildings in Fairfield.

Or learn why the Louden Manufacturing Company was so important to Fairfield. Go to the Louden Machinery Company Tour.

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Water Trails - Skunk River and Cedar Creek

The Skunk River Water Trail

The conservation boards in Henry, Jefferson, Keokuk and Washington Counties have worked together and have established a 72-mile water trail on the Skunk River.

Skunk River

The real natural beauty of the Skunk River can be enjoyed best by navigating the river in a motor boat, canoe, or kayak. After the North and South Skunk River join just south of Sigourney, the river meanders freely for most of its 100 miles through farmland and wooded areas until it joins the Mississippi River.

Make sure you take along your fishing pole and bait. The Skunk River is notoriously known for it's excellent fishing. The shoreline of nearly every stretch and bend of the river is littered with fallen trees, creating excellent habitat for channel catfish, freshwater drum and carp.

The Skunk River Water Trail begins near Sigourney in Keokuk County, traverses Washington and Jefferson counties, and ends 72 miles later at Oakland Mills in Henry County.

The Jefferson County section is 10.5 miles long. Access points in Jefferson County include Coppock and Mac Coon Access. Other landing areas can be seen on the map of the entire Skunk River Water Trail. The 72-mile Skunk River Water Trail begins at the South Skunk River Access (# 1 on the map, south of Sigourney) and ends at Oakland Mills Park (# 9 on the map, southwest of Mt Pleasant).

Skunk River Map Chart

A detailed brochure is available at the Nature Center, or it can be sent to you.

The Cedar Creek Water Trail

The Cedar Creek Water Trail can be accessed from the Turkey-Run Wildlife area and from Round Prairie Park. Map below.

cedar

Getting to know Cedar Creek

Cedar Creek enters Jefferson County midpoint along its western border. It then flows southeasterly and leaves the county approximately 25 miles later. Along the way the creek connects three of the conservation board's recreation and wildlife areas: Cedar Creek Timber, Turkey-Run Wildlife Area, and Round Prairie Park.

While much of Cedar Creek was channelized in the 1920's and 30's, the lower part of the waterway, a mile and a half past Turkey-Run, has been allowed to follow its own course. Just as in the early days, when Native Americans moved in and among its banks, the creek is lined with silver maple, sycamore, walnut, cottonwood, and river birch. The size of many of these trees, especially the maples, attests to their age.

A canoe trip from Turkey-Run Wildlife Area to Round Prairie Park, a 8.4 mile paddle, will reveal an abundance of wildlife. Bird watchers will enjoy the sighting of shore birds, great horned owls, great blue herons and kingfishers. For the angler, small mouth bass can be found in some of the rockier sections and catfish can be found hidden in the creek's holes and snags.

For the rock hound there are small outcropping's to explore. Prior to 1835, when Jefferson County was virtually untouched by European settlers, early surveyors moved through the area. They kept generous field notes on what could be found here. It was along Cedar Creek and other water courses where these surveyors found and recorded the presence of sandstone, limestone, coal and the "clays suitable for brick".

paddle

cedar

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Equestrian Trails

Horse

Rob Weaver's family and friends developed and maintain 6 miles of rough horseback trails in the Turkey Run Wildlife Area. Since this is primarily a public hunting area, trail use is prohibited during deer and turkey hunting seasons (October through mid-January, and early April through mid-May). Limited parking space is available for trucks and horse trailers. Call the Jefferson County Conservation Board for more information.

Horseback riding is allowed in Round Prairie Park, although there is no established bridle trail.

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Fishing & Hunting Areas (Jump down to Hunting)

Fishing Areas (in Jefferson County)

Fishing is allowed in 7 areas managed by the Jefferson County Conservation Board -- Jefferson County Park, Mac Coon Access, Round Prairie Park, Zillman's Hickory Hills, Whitham Woods, Cedar Creek Timber, and Turkey Run Wildlife Area.

Jefferson County Park 227 acres Four ponds
Mac Coon Access 71 acres Stream, Skunk River
Round Prairie Park 101 acres Two ponds, one stream
Zillman's Hickory Hills 46 acres Two ponds
Whitham Woods 133 acres One pond
Cedar Creek Timber 275 acres Stream
Turkey-Run Wildlife Area 405 acres Stream

All of the rules and regulations of the Iowa State DNR apply. For instance, you must have a valid fishing license.

For complete information, go to - Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources Fishing Page

Catfish

If there was a family of fish that was the monarch in any locality, then to Iowa anglers catfish would be "King". A poll on fishing in Iowa revealed that nearly one-third of our fishermen prefer to catch channel catfish and bullheads.

The Skunk River (photo below) provides river rats with miles of snag-filled holes that support not only channel catfish but giant flatheads as well.

Skunk River

Ten species of catfish inhabit Iowa waters.

These species include large catfish such as:
   ⚫  Channel catfish, flathead catfish and blue catfish, all of which often reach weights of over 20 pounds.
   ⚫  The bullheads, including black, yellow and brown, which rarely exceed 4 pounds in weight.
   ⚫  And four species of madtoms, which are the smallest of the catfish.

Catfish are easily identified by their smooth scale-less bodies, eight elongated fleshy barbels or "whiskers" about their mouth, and the strong, sharp spines that are located at the insertion of the dorsal and pectoral fins. It is believed that the spines are adapted as defensive structures in the catfish family.

A locking mechanism allows the fish to extend the spine outward when attacked or touched, making it hazardous for a predator to grasp it and nearly impossible to swallow. Madtoms and small bullheads have glands at the base of the spines that secrete a mild but painful venom when danger is threatened.

The barbels of catfish carry well-developed sensory organs which are used to transmit both touch and taste. Additional taste buds are found at other locations on the body.

It has been estimated that an adult bullhead has perhaps 100,000 nerve sensory sites on its body. All of the catfish are adapted to foraging in muddy and dark waters where feeding by senses is essential. (From Iowa DNR website.)

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Hunting Areas (in Jefferson County)

Hunting is allowed in 5 areas managed by the JCCB: Mac Coon Access, Livingston Timber, Cedar Creek Timber, Turkey Run Wildlife Area, and Gantz-Hewett Timber.

Mac Coon Access 71 acres Deer, turkey, squirrels, rabbits
Livingston Timber 74 acres Deer, turkey, squirrels, rabbits
Cedar Creek Timber 275 acres Deer, turkey, squirrels
Turkey-Run Wildlife Area 405 acres Deer, turkey, squirrels, rabbits, upland game birds and waterfowl
Gantz-Hewett Timber 30 acres Deer, turkey, squirrels, rabbits, upland game birds

All of the rules and regulations of the Iowa State DNR apply. For instance, you must have a hunting license, and can hunt only during the stated season.

For complete information, go to - Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources Hunting Page

White tailed Deer

Deer

White-tailed deer were reported to be quite abundant when white settlers arrived in Iowa in the early 1800's. Uncontrolled exploitation for food and hides rapidly reduced deer numbers and by 1880 deer were rarely sighted in much of the state.

In 1898 the deer season was legally closed. By this time deer had been virtually eliminated from all of Iowa.

Reestablishment of deer into the state can be traced to escapes and releases from captive herds and translocation and natural immigration from deer herds in surrounding states. A conservative estimate of the population in 1936 placed statewide numbers at between 500 and 700 animals.

This small herd grew steadily. By 1950 deer were reported in most counties and the statewide estimate topped 10,000. Concentrations in some areas were beginning to cause problems by damaging agricultural crops.

In response to these problems the first modern deer season was held in December of 1953 and 4,000 deer were killed. Currently, the deer herd is estimated to be about 200,000 after the hunting season and harvests have approached 100,000 in recent years.

Careful management of deer populations by man has played a crucial role in allowing deer numbers to return to the levels enjoyed today. Management consists of carefully regulating the harvest since hunting provides the only major source of mortality for deer today.

Unchecked, Iowa's deer herd would double in as few as 3 years. With Iowa's abundant agricultural crops providing food, densities could potentially reach 100 or more deer per square mile before natural regulatory mechanisms would begin to affect deer health and slow the rate of growth.

Deer numbers this high would cause economic hardship to Iowa's landowners as well as alter the natural vegetative community. Maintaining a deer population in balance with the wants and needs of the people in the state is a difficult task, but hunting is the only viable management option to achieve this goal. (From Iowa DNR website)

Wild Turkey Restoration

Turkeys

Iowa's primitive oak-hickory forests covered nearly 7 million acres during the original land survey in 1859. Settlers' records indicate turkeys were associated with most of this timber.

Although turkeys may not have been as numerous in Iowa as in their primary range east of the Mississippi River, they were still plentiful. Unfortunately, wild turkeys were eliminated from Iowa by the early 1900's due to habitat loss and partly because of uncontrolled subsistence hunting.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) began experimenting with turkey restoration in 1920 using pen-reared birds. Releases were made over the next 18 years but all releases were uniform failures. By 1960 no known wild turkey populations existed in Iowa.

The first attempts at releasing transplanted wild turkeys were in the early 1960's. Rio Grande and Merriam's subspecies were released at several sites during the 1960's but ultimately their poor adaptation to Iowa's oak-hickory forest led to population failures for both subspecies.

The first release of Eastern wild turkeys was in 1966 in Lee County. The population response of these turkeys was phenomenal - survival of released birds, reproduction, and poult survival were all excellent. The success of this Eastern subspecies stocking led to an additional stocking that also proved successful.

By 1971 it was obvious that the Eastern subspecies was the turkey to use in future restoration attempts.

Since the initial 1966 release, 3,063 Eastern wild turkeys have been released at 220 sites at a stocking rate of approximately 3 adult gobblers and 10 hens per site. Nearly all sites are considered successful, and turkey populations have expanded across the state. (From Iowa DNR website.) (Photo by Julie Johnston - used with permission.)

Contact us for the latest information.

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Mission Statement
Our mission is to enhance the quality of life in Jefferson County by acquiring, developing and managing public areas so that its citizens will have opportunities for quality outdoor recreation experiences, and to cultivate good land stewardship through natural history and environmental education activities.

Produced by the Jefferson County Conservation Board
2003 Libertyville Road, Fairfield, IA 52556
Call: 641-472-4421    Fax: 641-472-7911
E-mail: jeffersonccb@lisco.com
Updated 11-27-18