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Come for the History, Stay for the Activities at the Western Historic Trails Center
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Come for the History, Stay for the Activities at the Western Historic Trails Center

It was only a single piece of granite, but my curiosity would not let me ignore it.  “Tell me about the giant slab of rock you have in front of the building!” I urged Teressa Sward, a technical preservation specialist at the Western Historic Trails Center in Council Bluffs.

“If you look at a picture of the (granite) elevation wall there are increments of 60 miles and 60 miles was what a covered wagon could cover in a week,” Sward explained.  “And that’s how it is interpreted on the wall.  This was not just Lewis and Clark it was the whole western movement,” said Sward.  Her response made me consider something radical: traveling without modern transportation.  Oh, my! 

Providing a historical perspective is one of the many things this center does so well.  Its exhibits, maps, and films help visitors understand the challenges faced by early western settlers, people who “paved” the way for us as they rode on dirt-filled trails lacking directional signs.

Located in a city steeped in history, the center’s over 400 acres offer not only a nature preserve, but also a museum and an area welcome center. 

Music, movies and more inside

At its Jam and Bread event every Thursday from 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. the center hosts local musicians whose lively sounds are as inviting as the aroma of the free homemade bread that it provides to audiences.  The center’s youth volunteers organize family movie nights and free popcorn.  Hands-on art programs are also part of its ongoing events, which are posted on its Facebook page.  For those seeking a more historic experience, stop by on Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. and join others who study documents pertaining to Lewis and Clark.

Birds and beauty outside

The quiet oasis of center’s pond will lure licensed Iowa fishing enthusiasts.   Along its half-mile trail dotted with panels of historical information you’ll find a multitude of items to excite your ears and eyes: the delicate song of the state bird, the goldfinch, and Monarch butterflies fluttering through bundleflowers, sunflowers and crown vetch.  “Please remember to dress appropriately along the walk; wear long pants, closed shoes and sunscreen,” said Sward.

Extend your time in nature with a B-cycle

If you’d like to experience the outdoors from a closer view than your car window consider renting a Heartland B-cycle to get to the center.  For $6 you can purchase a 24-hour B-cycle Fun Pass from the Ameristar Casino Hotel B-station and make the 1.5-mile bike ride along River Road to the center, which provides bike racks.  According to Heartland B-cycle Program Director Ben Turner the view from two wheels is worth experiencing.  “The beauty of a bicycle trip is that you get to see so much more of your community than you do in a car.  You get to look around and smell and really absorb the world around you in a way that is unlike any other mode of transportation,” said Turner. 

No matter which mode of travel

Take a bike, your car, or even a covered wagon and spend some time at the Western Historic Trails Center!  

Hours:  Wednesday-Sunday 9:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.; closed Monday, Tuesday and official state holidays.  

Location: 3434 Richard Downing Avenue, Council Bluffs on 24th Street south of I-80 (exit 1B) 

Telephone: 712-366-4900.  


Image source:  Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

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