Loess Hills Nature School

Loess Hills Nature School is a program of The Naturalist School LLC in partnership with Loess Hills Alliance, Golden Hills RC&D, Pottawattamie County Conservation, Harrison County Conservation, and Tallgrass Prairie Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium.
The Loess Hills Nature School field seasons are for those who seek deeper engagement in citizen science, nature education, nature writing and the arts, and conservation in Iowa’s Loess Hills and surrounding ecosystems. (Photos by Robert Smith except where noted.)

April woodland, Hitchcock Nature Center. (Photo by Cub Phillips.)

Our workshops are immersive, intensive, outdoors in all weather, and physically demanding. They are intended for adults who love nature and are committed to the study, conservation, and preservation of native ecosystems, and to educating others in this good work. LHNS workshops are taught by graduate students, professors, ecologists, and conservation professionals.

Loess Hills Nature School in autumn.

Late winter field season at Waubonsie State Park, Gleason Hubel Wildlife Area, and Hitchcock Nature Center in Iowa’s Loess Hills.  Each workshop will be limited to 12 participants. These workshops are tuition -free except where noted*. and registration at least 2 days prior is required. Contact Jack Phillips for more information and to register: newtreeschool@gmail.com. * Donations to Loess Hills Nature School will be accepted.

Our Workshops and Saunters are held outdoors with limited access to facilities. We will only cancel in case of extreme weather. Participants should bring food and water, binoculars, hand lenses, notebooks, and field guides as appropriate. Weekly updates will announce topics for the upcoming workshop, starting time, and meeting place. Please note: Our workshops require walking long distances, often in harsh weather, over very steep and rugged terrain. Our workshops may be physically challenging for some potential participants. 

March 4th (Saturday), WSP. Late Winter Birds, 3:00 – 6pm.

March 5th (Sunday), HNC. Saunter, 9 -11am. What is a Saunter? Click .

March 12 (Sunday), WSP. Late Winter Fungi, Lichens, and Bryophytes (morning) and Oaks of the Southern Loess Hills (afternoon). 9am – 3pm. (Bring sack lunch and other provisions for the day.) Tuition: $45. Morning workshop postponed due to weather. Afternoon Oaks workshop will meet noon – 4pm. No tuition, but pre-registration is required by Friday March 10th.

March 18th (Saturday), GHWA. Saunter, 9 – 11am. (Please note: no restroom facilities on site). Afternoon field trip: Crawford County sites, 1 -4pm.


Slippery elm, early bloom at Waubonsie.

March 19th (Sunday), WSP. Nature Writing in the Loess Hills, 9am – noon.

March 25th (Saturday), HNC. Loess Hills Ecology: a rugged hike and field study, 9am – noon.

March 26th (Sunday), WSP. Spring Phenologies, 9am – noon.
Field season faculty: Katie Thompson, Matt Low, Chad Graeve, Michelle Biodrowski, Nick Salick, Robert Smith, Matt Moles, Jason Andersen, and Jack Phillips.
TNS at Pahuk: Sunday, April 2nd, Saunders County, Nebraska. Canceled due to wet conditions. Join us at Waubonsie; see below.
We will spend the afternoon among the ancient and wise oaks in mediation, quiet conversation, and mindful ecological immersion on the sacred Pawnee bluff. Long and rugged hiking required. More details will come to those who register. Enrollment will be limited. Contact Jack  Phillips for more information and to register. Morning botanical study: contact Jack. Suggested donation: $20.

Candy stripe leaf-hopper.

Early Spring Field Season.

Early Spring field season at Hitchcock Nature Center: Saturday mornings, April 1, 8, 15, 22, 29, May 6, 13.
April 1st (Saturday.) Early spring birds, woodland flowers, and maybe singing frogs at Gleason-Hubel Wildlife Area. Afternoon hike. Contact Jack for meeting place and time.
April 2nd. (Sunday.) Early spring birds and frogs, woodland flowers at Waubonsie State Park. Morning workshop, 9am – noon; afternoon workshop 1 – 3pm.  Contact Jack for more details and to register.
April 8th. (Saturday) Fungi, lichens, and bryophytes with mycologist Katie Thompson at Waubonsie State Park. 2 – 5pm. Tuition: $20. Contact Jack to register.
Sunday Saunter and readings with natural history author and climate-change writer Cornelia Mutel. Sunday, April 9th at HNC, 9 – 11am. No tuition.
April 9th (Sunday afternoon). Fungi, lichens, and bryophytes with Katie Thompson  at GHWA. 1 – 3pm. Tuition: $20 (no tuition if you paid for April 8 at WSP).

Cat’s tongue liverwort at Hitchcock Nature Center.

April 23rd (Sunday). Woodland flowers of the Loess Hills with botanist Rich Pope. Gleason-Hubel Wildlife Area, 9 – 11am. This is a field workshop with long hiking over rugged terrain. No tuition, but registration is required.
May 6th (Saturday). Spring birds and butterflies with ecologist Jason Andersen. Hitchcock Nature Center, 8am – noon. This is a rugged field study with extensive hiking. Tuition: $20.  Contact Jack to register at newtreeschool@gmail.com .
May 7th (Sunday). Wildflowers and sedges of the Loess Hills with naturalist and field guide author Neal Ratzlaff.  Gleason Hubel Wildlife Area, 1-3pm. This is a field workshop with long hiking over rugged terrain. No tuition, but registration is required. Contact Jack.
May 8th (Monday). Sedges: ecology and identification field workshop with David Sutherland, botanist and co-author of The Flora of Nebraska, and naturalist and field guide author Neal Ratzlaff. Hitchcock Nature Center, 9am – noon. No tuition, but registration is required. Please note: this is an outdoor workshop that will require hiking in rough terrain. Contact Jack to register.

Late Spring/Early Summer Field Season.

Spring and Summer Field Season faculty: Neal Ratzlaff, Katie Thompson, Cornelia Mutel, Chad Graeve, Michelle Biodrowski, Jason Andersen, Robert Smith, Nic Salick, Rich Pope, John T. Price, Matt Low, Michelle Biodrowski, Mike Weis, Joseph Phillips, Madeline Cass, Sarah Berkeley, Ted Burk, Katie Thompson, and Jack Phillips.
Harrison County Citizen Science project: weekly biotic surveys and field studies at Gleason-Hubel Wildlife Area. Amateur naturalists and professional ecologists are working to catalogue the flora and fauna of this unique and beautiful Loess Hills preserve. Two-hour field sessions are scheduled for weekdays and weekends through June. Contact Jack if you would like to learn ecology and to make a contribution to science.

Finding a Muse in Oak. May 16 – 17 at Waubonsie State Park

May 16th – 17th (Tuesday – Wednesday), with John Price, Sarah Berkeley, Matt Low, Jack Phillips, and Madeline Cass. This very active outdoor workshop will explore nature writing, visual art, and the contemplation of nature in the context of the rugged terrain of the Loess Hills. Waubonsie State Park.
Tuition: $40 per day, $60.00 for both days. Contact Jack Phillips for more details. Please note: this retreat will have limited enrollment. Participants should plan to bring water and sack lunches for each day. We’ll formally begin each day at 9am and finish at 3:30pm. Informal early morning and late afternoon hikes will be encouraged each day. Camping and cabins are available.
black oak, new leaves

Emerging leaves of black oak (Quercus veluntina) in Fremont County, Iowa.

Ecology of Oak Savannas and Woodlands

Sponsored by Loess Hills Alliance.

May 20th (Saturday). Oak Communities of the East Nishnabotna River with Jack Phillips. Cold Springs State Park, Lewis, Iowa. 9am  — noon. This valley is rich in oak species and woodland biodiversity. We will discuss oak community ecology as we hike through a variety of habitats and rugged terrain. No tuition, but registration two days prior is requested. Contact Jack to register.

May 21st. Oak Communities of the Loess Hills: Citizen Science Sunday at Gleason-Hubel Wildlife Area (Harrison County). This day combines workshops and biotic surveys of oak woodland and savanna communities including trees, shrubs, wildflowers, sedges, butterflies, and birds with expert naturalists and scientists. Morning and afternoon field sessions will held. 9am – 3pm. Faculty will include Jack Phillips, Jason Andersen, Robert Smith, Michelle Biodrowski, and Mike Weis. No tuition, but registration two days prior is requested.  Contact Jack for more information and to register. Sponsored by Harrison County Conservation Board.
gathering at Rahel meadow

Summer Naturalist School at HNC

The Naturalist School at Hitchcock Nature Center : early summer field season. Saturday mornings May 27th, June 3rd, 10th, 17th, and July 1st. Start times and meeting places will vary weekly depending on weather and phenology. Summer topics include woodland and savanna ecology, lepidopterans, odonates, pond ecology, breeding frogs and toads, nesting birds, woodland and savanna plants, fungi, bryophytes, lichens, and other taxa and topics. Tuition: $20 each workshop, $65 for 5-workshop field season. Please note that we will be hiking over steep and rugged terrain. Register by contacting Jack Phillips, or visit this link.  Tentative topics and habitats: May 27th: deep woods, ravines, and riparian communities. June 3rd: trees, shrubs, and vines of the Loess Hills. June 10th: dragonflies and aquatic insects. June 17th: oak savannas. July 1st: butterflies and moths of woodlands and savannas. July 8th: after the solstice: the Loess Hills in mid-summer.

May 27th (Saturday evening.) Sunset Saunter at HNC. Meet at the lodge at 7pm. Conact Jack to register. Click on our Sauntering page.

May 28th ( Sunday morning). Gathering Moss: Reflections on Life in the Undergrowth with Matt Low and Katie Thompson. We will explore the world of mosses, fungi , and bryophytes through hiking, writing, and readings from Robin Kimmerer’s Gathering Moss. Hitchcock Nature Center, 8 – 11am. No tuition, but registration two days prior is required.

May 28th (Sunday afternoon). Fungi and Bryophytes of Oak Woodlands with Katie Thompson. Gleason-Hubel Wildlife Area, 1 – 4pm. This field session will study will the role of fungi, mosses, and liverworts in oak woodland ecology. There is no tuition, but please registration two days prior. This workshop is sponsored by Harrison County Conservation Board and Loess Hills Alliance. Contact Jack for more information and to register. Please not that this is a rugged site, and no restrooms are available.
June 2 – 4th. Loess Hills Prairie Seminar, Monona County, Iowa.  Click this link.
June 11th. Sunday morning Saunter at Gleason-Hubel Wildlife Area. 9 – 11am. What is a Saunter? Click on our Sauntering page.

Great Spangled Fritillary (Robert Smith).

June 15th (Thursday). Butterfly Conservation: Introduction to Insect Adaptations to Fire. This field day in southwest Iowa brings together insect conservation and land management experts, naturalists, and pollinator advocates from three states. Waubonsie State Park, 9am – 3pm. This field workshop is offered in partnership with Tallgrass Prairie Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium and presented by Ted Burk, Creighton University, Matt Moles, Iowa DNR, and Steve Buback, Missouri DNR. No tuition, but registration is required. Contact Jack Phillips at newtreeschool@gmail.com for more information and to register, or visit www.tposfirescience.org/fire-insects-june-15-2017/

June 17th (Saturday), 7:30 – 10:30 am. Ancient Oak Communities. This rugged hike will visit pre-settlement oaks savannas and ancient trees at Hitchcock Nature Center to learn their wisdom and ecology. (Session number 4 of early summer field season.) Note earlier starting time. See details above, or contact Jack Phillips.

June 18th (Sunday), 8 – 10am. Citizen Science at Gleason-Hubel Wildlife Area. This rugged hike will continue our work of recording biota at this beautiful and extraordinary nature preserve. Contact Jack to register.

July 1st (Saturday), 7:30 – 10:30 am, Hitchcock Nature Center. Moths and butterflies of the Loess Hills with Ted Burk, Creighton University, and Jason Andersen, biologist with Pheasants Forever. (Session number 5 of early summer field season.) See details above, or contact Jack Phillips.

July 2nd (Sunday), 8:30am – 10:30am. Citizen Science at Gleason-Hubel Wildlife Area. Come along for a very vigorous hike to record biota and to enjoy this amazing nature preserve. Registration is required; contact Jack for more information.

clouds waubonsie

The Naturalist School at Hitchcock Nature Center: for late summer and fall field seasons, click here.
Citizen Science at Gleason-Hubel Wildlife Area: These rugged hikes will continue our work of recording biota at this beautiful and extraordinary nature preserve. Contact Jack to sign up. Hikes will be scheduled weekly. Next date: Monday, July 10th, 8:30 – 10:30am. No tuition, but registration with Jack is required.
Beat-poet Saunter: a thoughtful walk with readings from Jack Collom, pioneer environmentalist and eco-poet. Collom passed away July 2nd. Read about him here and here. You can find many of his poems on line. Tuesday, July 11th, 7 – 9pm at HNC. Prepare for a steep hike up Badger Ridge. If you have a favorite poem by Collom, bring it along to read in the waning sunlight. No tuition, but registration with Jack is required.
Thoreau at 200 Saunter: a contemplative walk with Thoreau’s “Walking” at HNC, Sunday morning June 16th, 8 – 10am. On Thoreau’s 200th birthday week, we will read his essay “Walking,” and saunter in the way he prescribed. No tuition, but please register with Jack by Saturday, June 15th. Please note: the terrain is rugged. This is a quiet walk intended for adults.
Citizen Science at Gleason-Hubel, Monday July 17th and 24th, 8am – 10am. Please register with Jack in case of change of time or wether cancellation. Prepare for rugged conditions, ticks, mosquitos, and poison ivy. Sounds daunting, but this is a beautiful and intriguing site, rich in biodiversity.

Nature Writing: Poetry and Perception, Sunday July 23rd, HNC, 8 – 10:30am with Jack Phillips. We’ll use readings and exercises from Poetry Everywhere by Jack Collom and Sheryl Noethe to find new ways of seeing in nature. Please register with Jack by Friday, July 21st or at this link.  


Walking and Writing, Art and Curiosity

Sunday mornings in August and September at Waubonsie State Park. We believe that a good naturalist walks with ever-growing attentiveness, curiosity, wisdom, wildness, and creativity. We have found that drawing, writing, and other contemplative and creative exercises help us to grow in these ways. August 6th and 20th, September 3rd and 17th.  October workshops: Sunday mornings, 9 – 11:30am, Hitchcock Nature Center and Waubonsie State Park. October 8th: HNC; 22nd: WSP, 29th: HNC. Workshop leaders: Genevieve Williams and Jack Phillips.

Registration is required. Contact Jack Phillips to sign up and for meeting place, and more details: newtreeschool@gmail.com.

Fall Woodland Ecology Series.  Details here.

October 14/15: rugged hikes in the Loess Hills*

Gleason-Hubel WMA, Harrison County, Iowa. Saturday, October 14th, 9 – 11am.

Waubonsie State Park, Fremont County, Iowa. Sunday, October 15th, 9 – 11am. Contact Jack Phillips to register and for meeting place.


Late Autumn Fungi and Lichens of the Loess Hills

with Katie Thompson, Iowa State University.  Saturday, November 4th, Hitchcock Nature Center, Honey Creek Iowa. 8 – 11am. Afternoon session at Gleason-Hubel WMA, 1 – 4pm.