Matthew has always been exploring nature ever since he was a kid. He encourages us to do the same, especially at Jester Park.
Tell us about your childhood. I was born in Des Moines and moved to Ankeny when I was in third grade. I grew up exploring the wild places on the edges of a growing community. My friends and I played around the old coal mines south of town; built tree forts in the wooded areas along the railroad tracks and caught bugs in the grassy perimeter of farm fields. I have fond memories of winter months spent building plastic model kits, drawing, playing with an HO scale model railroad and watching 60’s and 70’s era scifi TV shows.
As a family, we spent many years sailing various boats on Big Creek, Saylorville Lake, and Lake Rathbun. Sailing taught me some practical skills that I use today such as: knot tying, how to coil a long length of rope, how to pack efficiently in tight quarters, and maintenance/repair of materials exposed to the elements.
What was your first job? For my first job I contracted to detassel one acre of corn for Pioneer. It was a drought year which made the corn short and easy to detassel. The second year I contracted for two acres since the first year seemed so easy. It ended up being perfect growing conditions for a bumber crop of corn and miserable to detassel.
Why do you call Ankeny home? After living outside the state for seven years I realized that roots are important and Ankeny is where my roots are.
What’s currently keeping you busy? I am busy camping and hiking Iowa parks in order to add more content to Iowa Parklands over the winter.
I lived out of an 18’ camper for 10 days; hiked over 100 miles and meet some interesting people.
Tell us more about Iowa Parklands. I launched iowaparklands.com in November of 2012 as an outlet for my interests in design, fitness and the outdoors. The site has detailed firsthand descriptions of Iowa’s most popular parks as well as free printable trail maps. My favorite part of the Iowa Parklands project has been hiking hundreds of miles of trails with a GPS in hand to create accurate maps.
I also sell products on the site including trail map bandanas of many popular trail systems. The multifunctional bandanas have been popular with hikers, bikers, birders and equestrian riders. Several bandanas have been sold to Iowans living outside the state as a piece of nostalgia for their favorite Iowa Park.
As the Iowa park system centennial approaches in 2020, I plan to have more products to offer as well as additional park descriptions.
Tell us about one of your favorite outdoor trips in Iowa? The best outdoor trip I took in Iowa was a three park camping trip to Backbone State Park, Yellow River State Forest and Pikes Peak State Park. I lived out of an 18’ camper for 10 days; hiked over 100 miles and meet some interesting people.
What is one thing you can't leave home without other than your phone? I never leave home without a small multitool and a cloth hankie. I’ve become a bit obsessed with hankies that have interesting prints.
From one maker to another what is your tip or advice? Start the project your thinking about and don’t worry about the way you think it should turn out.
Who is someone in the Des Moines area, that some may know, you find as a mentor? I have always admired Nate Hoogeveen, the River Programs Coordinator at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Nate’s story of taking some time off to paddle Iowa’s rivers and then write a comprehensive guide book called “Paddling Iowa” inspired me to start Iowa Parklands. I hope I can motivate people to get out into Iowa’s parks and trails like Nate’s book motivated me to paddle Iowa’s rivers.
Convince us to visit one of your favorite outside places in the Des Moines area. Check out Jester Park in northeast Polk County. It’s a super accessible way to get your nature on. The Polk County Conservation Commission is managing a beautiful park with activities for everyone. My favorite activity at Jester is hiking during the late fall or on a mild winter day.
If you could grant the Des Moines area one wish what would it be? The removal of the dams on the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers in the downtown area and construct a water trail that continues through downtown Des Moines.