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Paddle, Fish, Hike and Call Owls

Chuck Ungs, naturalist with Wickiup Hill for 19 years, leads recreation programs for all ages

If you’re into outdoor recreation and you live in the Cedar Rapids area, Chuck Ungs is a person you need to meet.

In addition to being a naturalist at Wickiup Hill Learning Center in Toddville for 19 years, he’s an ACA Whitewater Kayak Instructor, an avid fisherman who builds his own rods, and he’s a recipient of the Iowa DNR’s Brass Bluegill award for excellence in angler education. And he’s teaching programs that get you (and your kids) more engaged with nature.

If you’d like to improve your kayaking skills, for example, Chuck is teaching sessions this winter at Bender Pool in Cedar Rapids, so you can practice your turns and rolls in a controlled environment rather than out on the river – and it’s only $10 per session. He’ll even load up his truck with extra gear if you don’t have your own yet. All you have to do is give him a call.

Chuck’s love of paddling runs deep. He has done whitewater trips throughout the Iowa, aided by the growing popularity of whitewater parks. “I live eight blocks from the whitewater park in Manchester,” he said. He has also paddled the parks in Elkader and Charles City, as well as the Winnebago River in Iowa and the Wolf River in Wisconsin.

“There are potential whitewater parks on the horizon in Des Moines, Cedar Falls, Central City, Waterloo,” Chuck said, indicating how this concept of recreation tourism is really taking off around the state. The classes he’s teaching at Bender Pool are a great way to brush up on your skills before traveling to your summer paddling destinations.

It may be his fishing programs, however, for which Chuck is the most well-known in the community. “My dad took me fishing as a kid. I’m sure it was a huge part of me heading into fisheries and wildlife biology at Iowa State. I pushed a lot of fishing programs in Chickasaw County, and I’ve kept up with lots of fishing programs here at Wickiup Hill.”

One of the most beloved of his fishing classes is his fishing rod building course, in which you will build a St. Croix or Rainshadow spinning rod. He learned this skill from a friend in Manchester who built him a fishing rod when he moved to the area. First his friend taught the courses, and when he passed away, Chuck took over. Chuck even helped start a group, Tri State Rod Builders, that brings instructors together once a year to share knowledge on this craft. You can join the next series of three classes, coming up in February.

When asked what he loves teaching the most, he said it’s his owl calling class. He often leads a walk around the time of the full moon, and teaches participants about owls. “I’ve offered this program lots of times here. Every other time we build owl calls for barred owls and then take them out on the trail. [Participants] get a chance to try them out and take them home with them.”

Beyond these classes, Wickiup Hill offers unique and exciting outdoor recreation programs year round. Located just north of Cedar Rapids in Toddville, Wickiup Hill aims to provide opportunities for people to experience the outdoors and develop an awareness and admiration of nature – something that Chuck feels strongly about, especially for children.

“Here…many of the students have never been in the country before,” said Chuck. “It’s important for them just to get out here and experience nature 101 – that opportunity is huge. Plus, we’re just far enough out – about 20 minutes from anywhere. Accessible, but with a huge diversity of habitats.”

It’s those habitats, Chuck said, that make Wickiup Hill so unique, and worth a visit. “You can experience a huge cross section of habitats in a small area – wetland, river, ephemeral wetland, oak savanna, prairie–all close by, within a fairly short walk,” Chuck said.

Make sure to see the full program descriptions on the county parks website, and stay tuned for a collaboration event with Chuck at Soko Outfitters!

Wickiup Hill Learning Center


The building is open from 8-4:30pm, Monday through Friday; 10-4 on Saturday; 1-4 on Sunday. Closed on all Linn County government holidays. Area hours are from sunrise to sunset.

Upcoming programs

Call Chuck at 319-892-6485 for additional info and registration on all programs.

Kids Ice Fishing Clinic – FREE!
Monday, December 31, 9 – 11:30am at Pinicon Ridge Park

Full Moon Owl Hike and Make an Owl Call
Monday, January 21, 6-8pm
Cost is $5/adult, $2/child 16 and under, or $10/family with one owl call. Additional owl calls $5 each.

Fishing Rod Building Course Series
Monday, February 11, 18 & 25, 6:30-9:30pm
Class cost depends on the model of fishing rod blank and options selected.

Almost Full Moon Owl Hike
Thursday, February 21, 6:30-8:30pm
Cost is $2.50/adult, $1/child 16 and under, or $5/family.

Kayak / Canoe Practice – pool time!
This winter, Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation and Linn County Conservation are teaming up to promote kayaking with pool time at Bender Pool, 940 14th Ave SE in Cedar Rapids. Drop in pool sessions will be held from 4:30-6:30pm on January 13, 27, February 10, and 24. The fee is $10 per person. Everyone is required to be in swimwear and a life jacket. A helmet is required for those practicing rolls. Youth must be supervised by an adult.

Additional information on the Kayak Basics Event coming soon.

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