ALERT: Full hookup sites now available at Arrowhead Park, Botna Bend Park, and Hitchcock Nature Center for $30 per night.
ALERT: Closure of L-55 Bridge over I-80 (exit 23) to Arrowhead Park scheduled for July 1st. May be closed through early August.

Citizen Science & Volunteering Combine at Hitchcock Nature Center

Posted on 1/30/2018
The oak tree is a symbol as much as it is a tree. Dotting the landscape of the Midwest, oak trees have been a common sight since before European settlement. But a newly recognized disease has taken aim at these mighty trees and we want to know why. 

Staff can't do it alone though so to better canvas our park and gather important date we have created a brand new project aimed at involving the public. Citizen science & volunteering combine to give our park visitors the chance to learn new skills and explore the park in a whole new way as they donate their time to support one of Iowa's most iconic trees. 

The Hitchcock Oak Inventory Project seeks to document the health and condition of the oaks at Hitchcock Nature Center through a volunteer-led, multi-year digital data collection effort. The data that volunteers collect will be compiled and analyzed by land managers and researchers throughout the region that are actively trying to understand what’s happening to upland bur oaks in the Midwest. In addition, volunteers will also have the chance to protect oak populations at Hitchcock Nature Center by learning how to prepare existing oaks for annual prescribed fire, and by learning how to select, properly plant, and grow acorns into viable majestic oaks in the park for future generations to enjoy.

To help our volunteer scientists with this daunting task we are hosting a series of three training sessions each aimed at a different aspect of the project & the work you will be doing as a project volunteer. While it is recommended that interested volunteers attend all three training sessions it is not required.  Once training has begun volunteers will be able to set their own hours of volunteering. Project volunteers will be asked to hike through Hitchcock Nature Center identifying oak trees, documenting their condition, tagging them, and logging them in using a smartphone application. There is absolutely no fee to participate in these trainings but we are asking you to register online in advance so we can prepare the needed information packets in advance. 

Training sessions will be held on the following dates & will feature a different focus. Click the session date below to register in advance. 

February Session: 8:00 a.m. to Noon, February 24th, 2018
Introduction to the project & field data collection app, oak ecology, and oak fire wounds

June Session: Noon to 4:00 p.m., June 23rd, 2018
Understanding and identifying the symptoms of oak decline in our region, review of the smartphone data collection app

September Session: Noon to 4:00 p.m., September 22nd, 2018
Preparing oaks for fire, oak/acorn propagation & planting

Interested volunteers must provide their own smartphone & be willing to download the specialized data collection application. Volunteers will also be responsible for providing their own outdoor and hiking gear, including footwear, during their forays into the field. 

Additionally, project volunteers will become official Pottawattamie County Conservation volunteers which includes an annual park permit, a gift shop discount, and more. To become a project volunteer participants must complete a volunteer application, including an authorization for a background check, & sign the appropriate insurance forms. 

View the Hitchcock Oak Inventory FAQs for more information on this program.

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by Rene Stroud, Naturalist

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