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By Kenny Slocum

Clayton County Naturalist


In a previous life, I had a limited understanding of Iowa’s fascinating ecology. Mostly, my “identification” skills were limited to plants that stung or itched—and various scars would indicate my skills were lacking. Occasionally, I could recognize a delicious berry—a mulberry or blackberry if the timing was right—but generally I observed the wisdom of my mother who insisted I avoid putting unidentified things in my mouth.

My interest grew when something forced me to start examining the natural world around me more closely. Chasing a small, round piece of plastic repeatedly into the undergrowth, I would flip over logs to send bugs scurrying or reveal gelatinous fungi. I learned to identify plants, if not by scientific name, by dermatological reaction. Chasing that same object into mucky streambeds and lakeshores, crayfish and darting minnows distracted from my goal: find that plastic.

After all, I couldn’t finish my round without it. Disc golf played a big role in helping me appreciate Iowa’s natural beauty. An obsession with the game allowed me to experience our state’s phenology, whether I knew it or not. Playing round after round at the same park, with errant throws acting as unintentional “nature guides,” I came to appreciate the changes each week brought to the forests and prairies.

Now, in my current life, I wear the title of “naturalist” with great honor. Everyone embodies that title a little differently, but for me, I look back to one of the primary ways I came to know and love the outdoors in my youth. 

Clayton County Conservation has already found great ways to enmesh our organizational goals with the ever-growing sport of disc golf. Jay and Des Reading, Iowa Natives and professional disc golfers from E.D.G.E. (the Educational Disc Golf Experience) graciously hosted an introductory workshop on May 24th at Elkader City Park. A tremendous turnout on a “school night” demonstrated the region’s hunger to experience a great lifelong hobby.

E.D.G.E. also provided the CCCB with a generous donation of portable baskets, discs, and curriculum materials to enable traveling introductions to the sport at area schools. A visit with each grade level at Elkader Central – 205 students total – on June 2nd proved phenomenally successful test run, which the CCCB hopes to expand next school year. 

Coming up in August, the Turkey River Recreational Corridor will host an amazing event unlike any other. At the Quote-Unquote Triathlon, a “competition” for people just trying to have fun participants will “race” inner tubes on a short stretch of the Turkey River, complete a one-mile “turkey hunt” fun run, and throw 9 holes of disc golf. This event promises to be an absolute blast for people of all ages and abilities.

I am not alone in falling in love with our state’s natural wonders through the sport of disc golf. Thousands of Iowans throw thousands of rounds every year throughout the state’s 170+ courses – almost all of which cost nothing to play. Indeed, our courses-per-capita ranks first in the nation, and our courses attract world-class tournaments every year. Des Moines will play host to the PDGA Masters World Championships in the summer of 2017.

Disc Golf has much to offer someone looking to recreate and enjoy Iowa’s outdoors. The average 18 hole round requires nearly two miles of walking, in addition to throwing, squatting, bending, and cursing when things go horribly wrong. With courses in Elkader, Aurora, Oelwein, Prairie du Chien, Waukon, New Vienna, Waterloo, Decorah, and Dubuque, area residents need never drive more than half an hour to find a great way to play outside. From a conservation perspective, the ratio of impact to usability is unparalleled. Unlike the complex chemistry of golf course fairways and greens, disc golf courses require only the occasional mowing to be in tournament-shape. 

Therein lays Clayton County Conservation’s interest in the game. CCCB has ambitions to install a high-quality course right here at Osborne, creating a fantastic new way for the public to use their park and enjoy Iowa’s natural beauty. So if you’ve never played, give it a shot this summer! Just watch where your disc lands or you may just end up a naturalist. 


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