Manning, Iowa (and a walk at Swan Lake State Park)
It’s been awhile since I took a day and just explored Iowa.
So yesterday I had big, big plans. Too big, as it turned out. My destination was Manning, Iowa, just south and a wee bit west of Carroll. Along the way I hoped to stop for a walk at Swan Lake State Park, visit the Templeton Rye distillery, stop by Whiterock Conservancy in Coon Rapids, and end with a hike at Springbrook State Park.
I started out heading west on Hwy. 30 for about an hour until I reached Carroll. From there, Swan Lake State Park is just a couple of miles south on Hwy. 71. I arrived at 11 a.m. The morning had been cool and breezy, and a rain shower had just passed through the area. I set out on my walk.
The Sauk Rail Trail connects with Swan Lake, and the paved bike/walking path circles around the lake. The trail takes you through wooded areas, wetlands, and open, park-like areas. You can also get off the paved path and walk on parallel nature trails. As I walked, I saw songbirds, geese on the lake, rabbits, many butterflies, and one handsome toad. I worked up quite a sweat, as the temperature climbed significantly while I was walking. It’s a longer trail than I remembered, probably because the last time I walked the loop I was younger and in better shape. Yesterday it took me an hour and 40 minutes to make it all the way around, and I was really glad to see my car.
The 510-acre Swan Lake State Park is managed by the Carroll County Conservation Board. The 116-acre lake is the main focus, and there were dozens of RV campers there this weekend.
At that point my feet were sore and I was sweaty and tired. I snarfed down a peanut butter sandwich in my car and then headed to Manning.
Manning is a little German town right in the middle of Iowa. Residents have embraced their German heritage since the community was founded in 1881 by Schleswig-Holstein immigrants. My main reason for wanting to go to Manning was to visit the German hausbarn and homestead, and I was not disappointed.
Located just south of Hwy. 141 in Manning, the Manning Heritage Park features an authentic German hausbarn built in 1660. A hausbarn in a unique structure that consists of living quarters (bedrooms, living, dining, and cooking areas) and also areas for housing livestock, farm equipment, and feed.
The Manning hausbarn came from northern Germany. It arrived in Manning in September 1996 to be reassembled/reconstructed with the assistance of German carpenters. (Check out the website for interesting construction details.) The building includes brick masonry outer walls, heavy timber support structures, brick interior walls, and a thatched roof. The roof is the most interesting part, given that it contains 20 tons of reeds. Three professional thatchers actually came from Germany to assemble the roof. (Who even knew there was such a thing as a professional thatcher?) All this work took several years to complete, and the hausbarn was dedicated in August 2000.
The result is a truly magnificent barn worthy of a trip to Manning, Iowa, (and a $6 admission fee) to see. In addition to the hausbarn, there’s also a 1910-ish historic farm site – the Leet/Hassler Farmstead – consisting of a Craftsman-style house, carriage house, barn, boar house, chicken house, and corncrib. All are in wonderful condition, and the park setting is shady and well-maintained.
Last stop is the Trinity Church, a 100-year-old Lutheran church on a hill above the hausbarn and farmstead. Built in 1913, the Manning Heritage Foundation moved the church in 2006 to the park from its original site nine miles south of Manning. It’s available for weddings and other special events.
After I toured the historic sites, I headed into Manning’s downtown. Main Street is wide and tidy, with plenty of free parking and nice German architecture…but not much to do. I was there at 2:15 on a Saturday afternoon and couldn’t find anything to eat or any shops to poke around in. (The Travel Iowa website promised antiques stores, but I saw none.) I left the downtown area disappointed.
But before I left Manning altogether, I had one more stop to make. I wanted to see the John Deere mosaic created by ISU alum Clint Hansen (who also designed the mosaic mural in the ISU Alumni Center, where I work). As a traveler hurrying down Hwy. 141, it would be easy to drive right on by the John Deere dealership and think that the artwork is nothing more than a vinyl banner or painting – but don’t. Stop your car, get out, and look closely. The glass mosaic is a tremendous work of art – and I don’t give a hoot about tractors. The artwork is called “Transitions,” and its four panels tell the story of the evolution of John Deere tractors. (Again, the subject matter may not excite you, but the artistry will.)
After I left Manning, I drove a few miles east and a mile north to the tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Templeton, famous for its rye whiskey. I was certain that the distillery would be open since its website said there were tours on Saturday. Maybe the tours were held earlier, but the place was locked up tighter than a whiskey barrel. Perhaps I’ll go back another day.
My next two stops were to have been the Whiterock Conservancy and Springbrook State Park, but the temperature gauge said 86 degrees and my feet were still sore from my Swan Lake walk, so those, too, will have to wait for another day.