ELKADER, Iowa — Kenny Slocum left the main trail to hike down a narrow path surrounded by tall grass and shrubs at Osborne Park on Wednesday.
Pushing past the dense growth of sandbar willow, he emerged onto a sandy bank along the Volga River. The spot is particularly good for fossil hunting and bird watching, said Slocum, a naturalist and resource manager for Clayton County Conservation Board.
“It’s just very tranquil,” he said. “It’s such a nice spot to watch the seasons change from.”
Located southwest of Elkader, Osborne Park boasts a wide variety of offerings across its 300 acres. Visitors can hike, play disc golf, visit a nature center and historic village, go kayaking and canoeing and view exhibits with animals native to the state.
“The diversity of opportunities here for things to do is pretty much unparalleled,” Slocum said.
On Wednesday, he walked a wide, grassy trail, following the Volga River and then winding uphill toward the nature and welcome center in the park.
Visitors to the nature center — which is also an Iowa welcome center — can view small exhibits as well as live animals such as turtles, snakes and salamanders.
One of the park’s biggest draws is located outside in the nearby wildlife exhibit, which houses a variety of animals native to Iowa who otherwise could not be released into the wild.
On Wednesday, a mountain lion sat atop a wooden beam in one enclosure. Nearby, a bobcat, foxes, a raccoon, a black bear, owls, an eagle, a wolf, a coyote and a turkey had their own spaces.
Slocum noted that many visitors to the wildlife exhibit return over and over.
“It feels like people get a really personal relationship with the animals,” he said.
Nearby, several small buildings marked the park’s pioneer village, which aims to give people a look at what life was like in the town of Osborne, which sprung up in the late 1800s. A short drive away from the nature center along Iowa 13, visitors can access the northern part of the park, which includes hiking trails, a disc golf course and archery ranges.
A canoe access point along the Volga River is a popular spot for paddlers, Slocum said. A fishing pond that was dredged earlier this year should be ready for anglers next year.
“You can hang out for an entire day, a couple of days, and just do a lot, a lot of stuff,” Slocum said.
Jarod Bormann has lived in Elkader for 12 years, and visits to Osborne Park have been a staple of his family’s time there. Bormann enjoys running and hiking trails in the park, and his children enjoy seeing the animals on display.
Bormann and his family also like visiting the sandbar along the river, where they let their dogs run and go hunting for river treasures.
“Osborne is one of the reasons why my wife and I have remained here for 12 years, and we really don’t plan on moving any time soon,” he said.