Loess Hills Prairie Seminar Campground
Join Monona County Conservation for a free, family-friendly weekend of hands-on learning, activities, and sessions with conservation partners to explore and experience the Loess Hills!
Did you know that the Loess Hills are one of Iowa's last wilderness areas? This 46th-annual seminar attempts to help others connect to some of the last wild places left in our state.
"Getting people; getting children acquainted with what's out here will make people concerned about what is happening here. If we get acquainted with natural communities we feel at home. Any place we feel at home, we feel like protecting." — Sylvan Runkel
This event spans three days:
Free primitive camping is available.
The Loess Hills Seminar began in 1977 with a group of approximately 25 people who wanted to study the unique characteristics of this special area. To get an accurate feeling of the “Hills,” and preserve the delicate ecology, the group backpacked into the interior for the first seminar. Since then the increased number of participants has necessitated a more convenient location. The original idea of preserving the “back to nature” concept of the seminar, however, is still a major goal of the organizers.
The Loess Hills are a geological formation created thousands of years ago during the glacial periods. The Missouri River Valley flooded every summer with the ice melt from these glaciers. During the cool months, however, the flows declined, creating expansive mudflats. Winds dried and picked up this soil causing huge dust storms. Much of the wind-blown soil or loess was dropped near the mudflats in “dirt drifts” exceeding 200 feet in depth.
There are several reasons why the Loess Hills are unique. The soil itself is composed of “silt-sized” particles. This allows water to rapidly pass, which creates an arid or dry condition. South- and west-facing slopes of the Hills are baked in sunlight, while slopes facing north and east are more shaded. These shaded slopes are often wooded with relatively young stands of Bur Oak.
The sunny, steep slopes have remained in native grasses and flowers, genetically tied to the same vegetation that was here before settlers arrived. The combination and quality of both timber and prairie make this ideal for study.
About Sylvan Runkel State Preserve (Loess Hills Wildlife Area):
Turin Loess Hills State Preserve is a 220-acre area featuring a rugged Loess Hills landscape with an abrupt west-facing ridge. It is located in the southern unit of the 3,000-acre Loess Hills Wildlife Area, 2 miles north of Turin and 7.5 miles east of Onawa in Monona County. The Iowa Conservation Commission purchased the area in 1974. In 1978, the area was dedicated as a biological and geological state preserve and became part of a National Natural Landmark in 1986.
Sylvan Runkel State Preserve is a 330-acre preserve containing an outstanding example of Iowa’s Loess Hills landscape, with extensive native prairie covering steep hills. The tracts comprising the preserve were acquired by the Iowa Conservation Commission in 1973 and 1980 as part of the 3,000-acre Loess Hills Wildlife Area. In 1985, the Loess Hills Wildlife Area (including the preserve area) became part of a 10,420-acre National Natural Landmark. In 1996, the preserve was established for its biological and geological significance and named in memory of Sylvan Runkel.
Some hiking trails begin at parking lots located on 178th Street and Oak Avenue, Castana. Also, this region is where the annual Loess Hills Seminar is hosted by the Northwest Area Education Agency on the weekend following the Memorial Day weekend.
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