Matsell Bridge

Trail enhancements coming to the Matsell Bridge Natural Area

Posted:6/12/2019 Linn

Minor changes, but major long term benefits are coming to the Matsell Bridge Natural Area trail system. It is part of Linn County Conservation’s ongoing effort to restore natural habitat, improve water quality and manage sustainable environments.

The trail system at Matsell Bridge Natural Area has included 11 miles of multiuse trails and 1.25 miles of hiking trails.  The adjustments to the trail system will make multiuse trails 12 miles with 3.25 miles of hiking trail. In addition to our mowed trails, there will now be 1.5 miles of designated single-track trails. 

So why review and change the trail system?

  • Significant erosion problems have occurred and many of the existing trails pass through environmentally sensitive areas. 


  • Sensitive areas within the Matsell Bridge Natural area require further protection, such as remnant prairie, where only .1% still exists in Iowa


  • Many trails were originally service drives used to access crop fields and were designed in such a matter for convenience


  • Enhancing trails will provide differing scenic areas and habitats


  • Trail systems and fire breaks will be aligned to avoid confusion between the two


  • Wayfinding will soon be updated to keep trail users on designated trails


  • Safety will be improved for users while trail maintenance is also reduced


Some of the latest improvements at Matsell have been the removal of several groves of non-native pines and spruce. Although these areas had become popular for trail users, these stands of evergreens had become diseased or were declining due to competition with each other.  Another significant change was the elimination of row crop farming of approximately 40 acres of land.  These former crop fields have been converted back to a highly diverse pollinator prairie.  Several wetlands have been restored or created to not only improve habitat, but to provide floodwater storage. Nutrients and pollutants are stored in the soil allowing cleaner water to flow in below the wetland.  The Conservation Department has increased efforts in recent years to remove invasive woody species, such as Autumn Olive, Honey Suckle, Russian Mulberry, Oriental Bittersweet and Black Locust.  Unfortunately, many of these species were planted in the 1960’s and 70’s to define the original trail system before it was known they were so destructive to the natural environment.

Goals for these management activities is to restore the area as much as possible to its historic natural state while preserving the plant and animal communities that may not be as common in other areas. This provides a rare opportunity to provide the public outdoor recreation experiences with multiple uses.

Department staff has been posting temporary signage blocking some old paths that were formerly or perceived to be trails.  New trail markers and wayfinding points will also be installed in the near future.  This process may take some time, but please be patient and observe the signage as you enjoy the trails.