Guthrie County full of outdoor activity

Joe Hanner, Guthrie County Conservation Board Director, points to a map located at Leon Mill Park in Panora that shows the Middle-South Raccoon River Water Trail.

Joe Hanner is from Guthrie County, so its only fitting the director of the Guthrie County Conservation Board (GCCB) would promote outdoor activities in the county.

“There’s a lot to offer in Guthrie County regarding outdoor recreation and natural resources,” said Hanner, who grew up at Stuart and graduated from Stuart-Menlo High School. “It’s really a positive thing for the quality of life and health.”

While the Raccoon River Valley Trail is the most recognizable activity, Hanner points to the growing interest in another trail - the state designated Middle-South Raccoon River Water Trail. The are several access points and parking areas along the trail.

It has two trailheads. One starts down the Middle Raccoon River at the Lenon Mill Park in Panora and stretches 36.5 miles. The other begins on the South Raccoon River at Nations Bridge Park nine miles south of Panora and runs for 34.2 miles. The rivers converge near Redfield and the trail ends at Van Meter.

“I’ve never seen a niche type of recreation explode like canoeing and kayaking over the last 10 to 15 years,” Hanner observes of the river trail usage. (GCCB in conjunction with the Panora Chamber of Commerce will be sponsoring the annual canoe float down the river on June 6.)

Speaking of the two parks, Hanner suggests camping there for several days and taking advantage of other recreation offered by the GCCB. These include the fore-mentioned bike and water trails and touring several native prairie and  wildlife refuge areas. 

Also, the Guthrie County Historical Village in Panora will open May 1.

“The parks are great venues for campers and recreationists,” said Hanner, who started as a ranger-naturalist for the GCCB in 1987 and became director in 1991.

He refers to the 89-mile Raccoon River Valley Trail as “arguably one of the best trails in the nation.” While commonly called the “bike trail,” it’s really an all-purpose trail, Hanner points out, as its used by walkers, joggers, skateboarders, families out for a stroll, people walking their dog or snowmobilers.

In fact, often during the weekdays more shoes than wheels will be found on the trail as more people are out for stroll than pedaling down the concrete. 

A recent trend on trail usage is large events involving thousands of people, notes Hanner, which he says impacts the local economy.

Major events coming up start with the Market to Market run on May 9 from Jefferson to downtown Des Moines. This will involve up to 2,500 runners on relay teams of five to seven members.

The BACcooN Ride goes through Panora on June 20. Last year upwards to 3,000 riders went through Panora, many stopping at PJ’s for a bacon-type entree.

A new event is the Peddlers Jamboree slated for Labor Day weekend on September 5-6. Riders will stop at various cities on the trail for food and musical entertainment with local residents joining them.

Also, the Des Moines Cycle Club will hold its annual ride to Jefferson, where it will stay overnight.

The GCCB has various areas of interests to tour throughout the county. These include:

Seely Creek Timber, Sutcliff Woodland Area, Bundt Prairie, Monteith Wildlife Area, Greenwood Cemetery Prairie, Marlowe Ray Wildlife Area and Sheeder Prairie. There are also several river accesses. 

Locations are listed on the website,

Hanner graduated from Northwest Missouri State University with a degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. For a couple of years he worked part-time but steady jobs for first the Iowa Conservation Commission and then the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“The conservation field is hard to get full-time work in,” said Hanner. “I never dreamed of working back in Guthrie County.” 

He and wife Michele live in Guthrie Center where she is a second grade teacher. They have two children, Allison, 19, a freshman at Northwest Missouri State University, and Matt, 14, an eighth grader at Guthrie Center.


Courtesy of Gordon Castile, Guthrie County Vedette, 4/9/15 and Guthrie Center Times, 4/15/2015.

Guthrie County Vedette Recreation Raccoon River Valley Trail Guthrie Center Times Raccoon River Water Trail Guthrie County Conservation Board Guthrie County

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