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Recreation Builds Community in Ames, IA and Story County

Try these four starting points to enjoy the outdoors and get moving.

By Cary Estes on February 7, 2020

Nathan Lambrecht

Outdoor recreation truly is a community experience in Ames and Story County. There are numerous parks, trails, lakes and golf courses to visit throughout the area and plenty of people to meet along the way.

“Having all these opportunities and areas to enjoy outdoor recreation is one of the reasons this is such a great place to live, because it provides connectivity within the community,†says Rhonda Maier, parks and recreation assistant director for the city of Nevada, located about 10 miles east of Ames. “We have a lot to offer new residents coming into the area who are looking to connect with other people.”

This connectivity is made even easier by the presence of so many organized sports leagues. Team activities for the public are available in various sports, including baseball, basketball, flag football, soccer, softball, volleyball and Ultimate Frisbee.

“There are a lot of ways for people to go outside and be active, not just in a casual way but a more organized way,†says Lauren Frandsen, a lifelong resident of the Ames area who plays in a volleyball league. “That’s a great thing for the community, because it helps build connections. I’ve met several people through the volleyball league who have become good friends.”

Here are four outdoor recreation destinations that provide Ames-area residents with opportunities for both fitness and friendship.

Opportunity Blooms in Ames, IA and Story County

Rivers, Lakes & Pools

With both the Skunk River and Squaw Creek meandering through Story County, water is a constant presence in the area. As a result, there are several places to go boating and swimming. Topping the list is the Skunk River, a designated water trail known for its excellent fishing, with several launch areas for canoes, kayaks and water tubes.

Favorite spots for swimmers include Peterson Park, which has 31 acres of water along the Skunk River Greenbelt, and Hickory Grove Lake, which recently underwent a major $3.4 million restoration. In addition, public swimming pools can be found at the Furman Aquatic Center in Ames, the Fawcett Family Aquatic Center in Nevada, and in Story City.

Ames, IA: Furman Aquatic Center
Ames / Furman Aquatic Center

Recreation Leagues

If it’s a sport, there’s probably a league for it in Story County. The most widespread is the Central Iowa Recreation League, an all-volunteer-based program that brings together teams from eight area communities for baseball, softball, basketball, flag football and volleyball.

“We have hundreds of teams and thousands of players throughout the year,†Maier says. “Each community hosts events, so it gets people visiting other communities throughout the area. And it offers them the opportunity to start playing recreational sports that hopefully will continue throughout their lifetime.”

Golf Courses

There are over a dozen places to yell “Fore†in the region, including seven courses within Story County. In Ames, there’s the city-operated, 9-hole Homewood Golf Course. Keith Abraham, Ames Parks and Recreation director, says it is ideal for beginners, families and older golfers. Other public options include Veenker Memorial Golf Course, a fixture on the Iowa State campus since 1938; Coldwater Golf Links, named a “4-Star Best Places to Play†by Golf Digest; and Story City’s River Bend Golf Course, which was designed by Charles Calhoun. Private options include Ballard Golf & Country Club in Huxley, Ames Golf and Country Club and Indian Creek Country Club in Nevada.

In the winter, golfers can work on their game at Inside Golf’s simulators and stock up on new gear and apparel at the family-owned Wagner’s Golf.

Parks & Trails

There are more than 4,300 acres of parks and natural areas and 55 miles of trails spread throughout Story County. The city of Ames alone has 38 parks, totaling more than 1,200 acres, and approximately 20 miles of trails within the park system.

The newest, the 39-acre Tedesco Environmental Learning Corridor, is part of the latest phase of ISU Research Park’s expansion and focuses on conservation, sustainability and water quality.

Other favorite greenspaces include Ada Hayden Heritage Park, Brookside Park, Daley Park & Greenbelt, Emma McCarthy Lee Park and River Valley Park, which offers cross-country skiing trails whenever there is enough snow.

“Not only are there all these activities available, but a lot of people utilize the parks just to get outdoors and refresh,†Abraham says. “It gives them places to go and improves their quality of life.”

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