On a bicycle trail in rural Iowa, life is busting out all over.
Just outside Yale, a doe crashed out of the brush and bounded onto freshlyplowed fields. Warblers zoomed back and forth across the trail, twittering, asfemale cardinals sought out twigs for nests.
Near Redfield, weeds erupted right out of the bike path, atop littlevolcanoes of soft asphalt. The rich, black earth here is among the mostfertile on the planet, which is why, out of 28 million acres of Iowa's nativeprairie, only a few thousand escaped the plow.
In fact, just about everything here is fruitful. A Redfield woman who hadquadruplets got last year's profits from the excellent homemade cookies soldto bicyclists at the restored depot in Redfield. The McCaughey septuplets livenot far away.
People who ride the 34-mile Raccoon River Valley Trail, just west of DesMoines, pick up all kinds of interesting tidbits. Adel, a pretty town withbrick streets, stood in for Des Moines during the filming of "Bridges ofMadison County." Its magnificent 1902 French Chateau courthouse appears in thefilm, as does Bernadine's dress shop, which still bears the slogan "WhereFrancesca Shops."
It's not only this Iowa trail that has links to Hollywood. The 26-mileHeritage Trail out of Dubuque ends in Dyersville, 3 miles from the "Field ofDreams" site. The 15 1/2-mile River City Greenbelt links Clear Lake, whereBuddy Holly played the night he died in a plane crash, and Mason City, settingfor "The Music Man."
Other trails are renowned for scenery. The new 63-mile Wabash Trace NatureTrail, from Council Bluffs to the Missouri border through rare loess hills,already is being called one of the nation's best trails. North of Des Moines,the 24-mile Neal Smith Trail follows big Saylorville Lake into Big Creek StatePark, ending at its beach.
Iowa, which has an excellent network of farm roads and is not as flat aspeople think, has been a great place to bicycle for a long time. It began toreceive nationwide attention in 1973, the first year of the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), which now attracts8,000 riders from 50 states and 50 countries and is billed as "the longest,largest and oldest bicycle ride in the world."
But it wasn't until the 1980s that the Iowa Legislature noticed thepopularity of rail trails, and in 1988 it allotted $1 million a year fortrails. The state has been piling on the miles ever since.
"Iowa has a lot of rail lines, and a lot of rail lines are beingabandoned," says Anita O'Gara of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, whichacquires the land. "And people love these things."
Now, Iowa has a trail for everyone. There are crushed-limestone paths forwalkers and people who prefer a natural appearance. There are asphalt pathsfor in-line skaters and people who like to ride hard. There are paths aroundtourist areas, such as Pella, Okoboji, Storm Lake and the Amana Colonies.
Today, Iowa ranks No. 5 in the nation in miles of rail trails, afterWisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
IF YOU GO
- THE TRAILS
Below are details on some of Iowa's trails. Most charge a daily fee of $1or $2.
- Raccoon River Valley Trail: It starts in Waukee, 10 miles west of DesMoines. The 16 miles from Adel to Linden are most scenic. Adel Chamber:515-993-4525.
- Neal Smith Trail: 24 paved miles along the Des Moines River and into apopular recreation area, augmented by the 5 1/2-mile John Pat Dorrian Trail.From Des Moines, it can be reached from the Iowa Highway 415 exit off I-80/35;parking is to the west on Northwest 66th Avenue. Its northern trailhead can bereached from the Elkhart exit off I-35; head west and follow the signs for BigCreek State Park. 515-276-4656.
- Heritage Trail: 26 miles of crushed limestone between Sageville, justnorth of Dubuque, and Dyersville. The easternmost 12 miles are most scenic.Dubuque tourism: 800-255-2255.
- Wabash Trace: 63 miles of crushed limestone from Council Bluffs toBlanchard in southwest Iowa. 712-246-4444.
- Chichaqua Valley: 20 paved miles from Bondurant, just north of DesMoines, to Baxter. 515-323-5300.
- Cedar Valley Lakes Trail Network: 33 paved miles along the Cedar Riverand creeks around Waterloo. 319-266-6813.
- Cedar Valley Nature Trail: 52 miles of crushed limestone from Evansdale,just south of Waterloo, to Hiawatha, north of Cedar Rapids. 319-266-0328.
- Dickinson County Spine Trail: 10 paved miles through the tourist areas ofLake Okoboji, Arnolds Park and Spirit Lake. 800-839-9987 or 712-338-4786.
- Prairie Farmer: 18 miles of crushed limestone through native prairiebetween Calmar and Cresco. Decorah tourism: 800-463-4692 or 319-534-7145.
- River City Greenbelt: 15 1/2 miles of asphalt, crushed limestone and citystreets from Clear Lake and around Mason City. Clear Lake tourism:515-357-2159 or 515-432-5309.
- Three Rivers: 44 miles of crushed limestone, including 36 railwaybridges, north of Fort Dodge, between Rolfe and Eagle Grove. Humboldt chamber:515-332-4087.
- Volksweg: 13 1/2 paved miles from Pella to Lake Red Rock. 888-463-8824 or319-828-2213.