See a PHOTO SHOWCASE of Loess Hills.
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CRESCENT, Iowa – The Cub Scouts from Omaha crowded around as one of their own squeezed milk out of a goat, spraying it into a little tin cup with the help of Sharon Oamek, owner of Honey Creek Creamery.
Mothers hovered, taking photos with small cameras. Lexi, the goat, stood on a stand, happily munching on a grain mixture, apparently oblivious to all around her.
“It gives them a chance to see where our food is produced,” said den leader Christine Tomcak, about the afternoon trip to the creamery. “It's something we don't get to see in town.”
It's the kind of experience Oamek and others operating artisan businesses and other attractions in the Loess Hills north of Council Bluffs would like to take place more often.
An association of nine Iowa attractions, each less than 35 miles from downtown Omaha, are touting the Living Loess tour, which begins Saturday.
Every third Saturday in May through November from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., all of the attractions will host an open house, allowing visitors a chance to tour the region and experience anything from goat milking and woodworking to local history and local art.
“It is a way of promoting the region and the uniqueness of what we have to offer,” said Oamek, whose creamery and farm, located 20 minutes from downtown Omaha, is one of the Living Loess stops. “It's kind of hidden away. People just don't know that they are there. So it's just to get that exposure and give people a taste.”
The nine attractions dot the hills between Mondamin and Crescent, with three attractions in Harrison County and six in northern Pottawattamie County.
At the north end is the Loess Hills Lavender Farm, where lavender plants are lined in rows in a valley. Mary Hamer, who operates the farm with her husband Tim, said she fell in love with the plant while visiting Washington state, describing a visit to lavender fields as a life-changing event.
“Walking through that field and the purple flowers and that aroma, it just captivated me,” she said.
They bought the land here and opened up the farm in 2009, where visitors can buy lavender balm, lavender lotion and lavender vanilla spritz.
The Hamers found the sandy Loess Hills soil conducive to growing the purple-flowered plant.
“That dirt just gets in your blood and you just love it,” Mary Hamer said of her native hills. “They are beautiful. They are original. They are a real unique land form.”
The Harrison County Welcome Center east of Missouri Valley sits on a stretch of what was once the Lincoln Highway. It sports an original marker, one of only 12 along the more than 3,000-mile length of the 99-year-old transcontinental roadway, said Kathy Dirks, coordinator at the site.
Visitors can also see an old horse-drawn peddler's wagon, more than 300 samples of barbed wire (like English World War I “Entanglement Wire” and “Pecos-Herring Grooved” from 1869) and a restored one-room school.
“A lot of people stop because we're an Iowa welcome center,” Dirks said. “Then they find out we have all the other items here.”
Recently, a couple from Alabama spent three hours there, soaking in the local history, she said.
At the Hitchcock Nature Center south of Honey Creek, visitors can hike more than 10 miles of trails that wind over the hills and through woods and remnant prairie. They can also expect to see wildflowers, migrating songbirds, and — in late August — Monarch butterflies.
“Just being in the middle of the Loess Hills is just amazing. It's a globally significant land form. You can only find it here and in China,” said Erin Kenney, community relations coordinator for the Pottawattamie County Conservation Board.
Three of the attractions are in the same building, owned by cabinet maker Shawn Shea of Loess Hill Woodworks. Gallaher Designs is where gold and silversmith Barb Gallaher makes items like broaches and earrings, including a set made from Winchester .45 automatic bullet ends. Harvest Studio has artwork by botanical artist Cynthia Gehrie that visitors can purchase.
“What people want who are coming here is, by and large … an authentic experience,” Gehrie said. “They are not looking for a franchise full of things made in China … This is strictly local.”
Oamek, the creamery owner, said the collaboration exists not only for marketing purposes, but for educational purposes as well.
“Just having them all tied together gives people a sense of community and what it has to offer.”
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