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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 partners with the Science Center of Iowa and the Des Moines Astronomical Society to bring stargazing to Ewing Park during the warmer parts of the season and at Birdland Shelter for the winter events. 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.

Date  Time  Location  What's Visible  
 Saturday, Dec. 14th  7:00-9:00 PM  Birdland Shelter  Geminids, Venus, Saturn  

Birding Basics

MallardMarch through May, participants meet on Wednesdays at Gray’s Lake starting at 11 a.m.  and together, take a casual walk in search of migrating and residential birds. During the first half of the season, waterfowl are the main focus. Pelicans, Coots, Mergansers and various ducks are common visitors at Gray's Lake. As spring progresses the smaller songbirds arrive to Iowa on their migration and Gray's Lake is a good place to see them as they pass through. Yellow-rumped warblers, Baltimore Orioles and an occasional Scarlet Tanager are bright and beautiful species that can be found as the group walks along the trail. 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.  Bring your own spotting scopes and binoculars, or we will have extra binoculars available for you to borrow.

The 2020 session will begin on March 4th and run through May 27th.


Bluebird Boxes

bbR no BCKA 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.

Four Bluebird Babies one day old, Hatched July 2nd, 2019

Monarch Butterfly Tagging

Monarch tag 4    monarch tag 6    monarch tag 5

Monarch tagging is a great way to get the public involved and excited about monarch butterflies and what conservation practices Des Moines Parks and Recreation is taking to help the monarch butterfly . Most people know what a monarch butterfly is but they do not always know that the number of monarch butterflies in the wild has been dropping drastically since the mid 1990’s. The tagging programs are a local part of a larger citizen science project that has been going on since 1992 to better understand the dynamics of the monarch’s spectacular fall migration. Each year more than a quarter of a million tags are used by volunteers across North America who tag monarchs as they migrate through their area on their way to Mexico.

The Monarchs are on their way south, look for new tagging dates to be set for September 2020.

           Monarch Tag 3       Monarch tag1
Bald Eagle Nest Watching

Gray’s Lake Park has hosted a nesting pair of Bald Eagles for many years.  The nest is easy to see and in the early spring, we have staff onsite Tuesdays from 11:00 am - 1:00 pm while the nest is active with young birds.  Spotting scopes, binoculars and answers to questions are available for participants to enhance their viewing.

Staff will be back at the nest site starting Tuesday April 7th , 2020.

The 2019 nest had three eaglets in the nest. Currently they are out of the nest, but you may be lucky enough to see one of them still in the area.


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:Monarch

  • 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.

  • Look for spring 2020 dates soon.

Milkweed for Monarchs is a new program started in 2019. Volunteers worked with staff to help plant over 800 Milkweed plants at Ewing Park and the James W. Cownie Baseball Park to help provide habitat for Monarch Butterflies in Des Moines.

We are looking for people to help us plant Milkweed Plants in some of our parks.
Look for spring 2020 dates soon.
Contact Joel at if you are interested.

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

DSCF1218 - Copy2020 Free Fishing Friday will be on June 5th
Free Fishing Friday is held annually in June for beginners to try their hand at fishing without needing to purchase a license. If you are interested in giving fishing a try for the first time, come on over and don’t worry, we will be there to help you.  Bait and supplies will be on hand to use at no cost. All ages are welcome. This is a Vamos a Pescar event so there will be translators available to make it even easier to catch that first fish.

2020 Free Fishing Friday, will be June 5th, 5 - 8 p.m.
Gray's Lake

Des Moines Parks and Recreation teams together with the Iowa DNR, Des Moines Ikes and the Latino Center of Iowa to make this program a success for everyone in the community. 
shore fishing Copy (2)


Carp Fishing Girl2019 CarpFEST was flooded out but we should be back in June 2020.
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 in June, 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.

Carp Fishing ManEnter the park from Fleur at the North West Entrance to the park.
Onsite Registration begins at 8:00 am 
Fishing begins at 9:00 am and stops at 11:30. 
Awards will be given out after all the fish have been recorded.

Saving Our Avian Resources is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1999 dedicated to saving our avian resources through raptor rehabilitation, education, and research. SOAR maintains all necessary US Fish & Wildlife Service and Iowa DNR permits to provide the rehabilitation and education.


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.
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2020 Dates
Jan. 10     Full Moon Snowshoe     Grandview Park    Click Here to Register
Feb. 7        Full Moon Snowshoe     MacRae Park          Click Here to Register


"Shinrin-yoku" also known as Forest Therapy
Des Moines Parks & Recreation along with Warren County Conservation Board will be hosting a nature & forest therapy guided walk on Sunday October 20, 1:00 pm at Greenwood Park.  We are inviting you to unplug, slow down, be present with your senses, and experience mindfulness in nature. This gentle three-hour walk, will focus on using all your senses through “Shinrin-yoku” also known as forest therapy, to explore Greenwood Park. Shinrin-yoku can provide many positive health benefits such as lowered blood pressure, decreased anxiety, increased focus, relaxation, and a connection with nature. A guide-in-practicum from the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides, will be leading you through these nature explorations. 

This walk is by Reservation only, there is limited space, and there is no fee. Register here or contact or (515) 248 6369 for more information.

Please come prepared by wearing comfortable walking shoes and dress in layers appropriate for the weather.  You may want to bring a light snack and drinking water.  A small backpack, sunscreen, and bug repellent may be useful.  You are welcome to bring a mat to sit on or small camping chair. There will be small sit mats available for use. We will hike if there is light rain, so bring rain gear.  Please meet at the Ashworth Pool in Greenwood Park parking lot at 1:00 pm. This program is geared towards those 16 and up. No pets please.