COLUMN: Summer fun at Central Park

Michele Olson
Jones County Naturalist

   It’s hard to believe that the summer season is right around the corner! Summer is a busy time full of graduations, reunions, weddings, vacations, and outdoor fun. I know for many of us finding fun learning opportunities for our family is always a high priority.

   For anyone in East Central Iowa, Central Park offers a wide variety of summer fun. Central Park itself offers miles of mowed hiking trails, a sand volleyball area, a horseshoe pit, and a beautiful swim at your own risk sand beach. The 25-acre lake is a popular fishing spot for those fishing from shore, the new cement lake-walk, or a boat. Your catch could include crappie, largemouth bass, bluegill, red-ear sunfish, northern pike, and channel catfish. If your family likes to go on picnics, you will enjoy the lake view from several open-air shelters or select a smaller picnic site with picnic table and grill. If camping is your style, Central Park offers primitive to fully modern campsites and two small rental cabins for those without a tent or camper. Reservations for the large enclosed pavilion and camping cabins can be made at

   One great place to visit throughout the summer season is the Central Park Nature Center. It is open from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. During the week the center is open when staff are present. The Nature Center houses a variety of local amphibians and reptiles, as well as exhibits on local plants and animals. “Themed Weekend Exhibits, Crafts, and Programs” at the Central Park Nature Center begin on Memorial Day weekend. These fun educational themed weekends are geared to all ages and are often offered at no charge. A full schedule can be found at Children attending any three Naturalist led programs are eligible to receive an Iowa Junior Naturalist Certificate and cool patch. Children completing the “Central Park Nature Center Challenge” win a small prize and are eligible to win a free camping certificate at the end of the season.

   If your family enjoys fishing or just wants to give fishing a try, mark your calendar for the quickly approaching Central Park Family Fishing Day set for Saturday, June 4 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Central Park. Crafts, games, music, and a variety of activities will be located at stations around the lake. Kids can try their casting skills when they enter the Wapsi Valley Bassmaster’s Kids Casting Contest. Families can use loaner fishing equipment and free bait while they take advantage of the Iowa DNR Free Fishing Weekend to try to catch a fish.

   Try out different kayaks in the canoe cove with Up a Creek Outfitters. Let the Dubuque Fly Fishers teach you how to cast with a fly rod. Don’t forget to visit the Jones County Wild for Reading StoryWalk Trail to receive a free book. Bring your own picnic lunch and enjoy snacks provided by the Jones County Community Foundation.

   Whether you’re camping, hiking, picnicking, swimming, or just out for a Sunday drive, Central Park is a wonderful local destination. Located near Amber and Center Junction, right in the center of Jones County, Central Park is a trip worth taking. I hope you have a chance to visit this hidden gem right in your own backyard.

   For directions to Central Park  or more information about our Central Park Family Fishing Day, visit



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