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Nature Programs

Des Moines Parks and Recreation has incredible parks where visitors can enjoy different types of recreation including connecting with nature and wildlife. Park users of all ages have the ability to explore and learn more about their environment when they attend nature-based programs. Studies have shown that children are smarter, more cooperative, happier and healthier when they have frequent and varied chances to play in the out-of doors.  Seniors enjoy the ability to be active and social while they continue their lifetime of learning and new experiences. Everyone can enjoy the hands on learning and experience new activities during every season of the year. 

Des Moines Parks and Recreation offers many popular seasonal programs such as Birding Basics (spring), Stand Up Paddleboarding (summer), Monarch Tagging (fall), and Snowshoeing (winter). Fishing events and Bald Eagle nest watching are great family activities along with many other programs for you to enjoy.

Nature Programs

Star Viewing Program

Parks and Recreation partner with the Science Center of Iowa and the Des Moines Astronomical Society to bring stargazing to Ewing Park. Telescopes and information about what you are viewing in the sky are provided. Everyone is welcome and if you have a telescope of your own, feel free to bring it along.

Birding Basics

March through May, participants meet at Gray’s Lake at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays and take a casual walk in search of migrating and residential birds. Volunteer leader John Bissell leads the group, pointing out birds, talking about their habits and answering questions. This program is great for beginners or people with some birding experience. Extra binoculars will be available.

Bluebird Boxes

A series of Bluebird boxes have installed in some of our parks. Volunteers monitor the activities in boxes March - August and then record the information they gather on nesting and hatchlings.  The boxes create nesting cavities for Bluebirds to utilize where park visitors can easily enjoy their beautiful colors and cheerful singing.

Bird Banding

Bird banding is a universal and indispensable technique for studying the movement, survival and behavior of birds. A licensed bird bander will be on hand to capture, band and release birds that live in Des Moines parks and participants get to be a part of the fun. Along with the Bird Banding, we have a limited supply of birdhouse kits. Participants will build their own birdhouse to take home me and create a backyard habitat for cavity nesting birds such as Wrens and Bluebirds.

Bald Eagle Nest Watching

Gray’s Lake Park has hosted a pair of Bald Eagles for many years.  The nest is easy to see and we have staff onsite one day a week to help the public view and learn about the eagles as they raise their young.  Spotting scopes, binoculars and answers to questions are available for participants to enhance their viewing.

Plant Grow Fly Garden Planting

Des Moines Parks and Recreation is helping Monarch butterflies and other pollinators in our city parks and you can help too. Each Plant.Grow.Fly program is broken down into three parts:

  • Learn about what pollinators need to survive and why they are important.
  • Decorate and fill a flower pot to help support pollinators to take home
  • Plant native Iowa species of plants in a butterfly garden.

Be prepared to get your hands dirty and do a little work to help Monarchs and pollinators. Registration for these events is required.

iEarth Camps

iEARTH day camps, presented in partnership with Des Moines Parks and Recreation and Science Center of Iowa, are for kids in grades 1-8. These weeklong camps get kids into our parks, enjoying the outdoors while learning about the environment through art, recreation, team and hands-on activities.

Fishing Events

Free Fishing Friday is held annually in June at Gray’s Lake Park. If you are interested in giving fishing a try for the first time, don’t worry, we will be there to help you.  Bait and supplies will be on hand to use at no cost and the first full weekend is Free Fishing Weekend in Iowa, so a license is not required. All ages are welcome.


Parks and Recreation partners with the Des Moines Izaak Walton League and the Iowa DNR to bring you CarpFEST.  Join us at Gray’s Lake Park, try your hand at Carp fishing and you could win a prize! Gear, bait and instructions are available. Carp caught may be kept by the fisherman or donated onsite to the wildlife rehabilitation organization S.O.A.R. All ages are welcome.


Stomps occur down the trail, the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park and even under the full moon. All ages are welcome.  Pop-up programs will occur when snow conditions are good. Registration is required and includes snowshoes, instructions and even a cup of hot chocolate!  Enjoy the winter on your own when you rent a pair of snowshoes. Contact our office for more information at 515 248 6369.