Enjoy the End of Summer on the Byway!

Enjoy the End of Summer on the Byway!

by Iowa’s Heritage and Scenic Byway Coordinators

Can you believe that summer is already coming to a close? There’s no better way to end the season than with a tour around the most scenic overlooks and hiking spots all throughout the state of Iowa. Whether you’re traveling with family, friends or by yourself – these are locations you won’t want to skip! 

In addition, the Iowa State Fair is set to begin on August 12 and run through the month, but there are several other events happening on and around each of the Scenic Byways in Iowa, too. Pick an event, pick a byway or pick a destination… you won’t be disappointed. 

Ledges State Park

Ledges State Park Boone, Iowa

Overlooks & Scenic Views

From east to west and north to south, our state is filled with the most beautiful locations and hidden gems. Take a look at each of these featured spots along all of the Iowa byways. Where are you going next?
Click Here for August’s Featured Locations!

There’s town celebrations, farmers markets, and fun scheduled all month long. Take a look at the calendar of events for what’s coming in August. Click Here for August Events!

Endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Species Found in Story County

Endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Species Found in Story County

7/30/2021 (Ames, Iowa) — An endangered rusty patched bumble bee was recently found in Ames, Iowa by Prairie Rivers of Iowa Watersheds and Wildlife Coordinator David Stein. This is significant as it is the first photographed find in Ames since the last verified sighting occurred back in 2018.

“I am beyond excited we were able to find such a rare species, especially after a few years of not having any verified records,” said Stein. “The Ames and Boone population of rusty patched bumble bees is smaller and more isolated than those in Eastern Iowa. They’re on the edge of its natural range making rescue and conservation efforts for them in Central Iowa vital,” Stein relates.

Rusty patched bumble bee found in Ames, Iowa

On January 10, 2017, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service placed Bombus affinis, commonly known as the rusty patched bumble bee, as the first bee species in the continental United States on the endangered species list. The species has declined by about 87% during the last 20 years and now only inhabits 0.1% of their original range. According to Stein, the main drivers for the decline are habitat loss, pesticide use and pathogens.

As a major part of our programming efforts, Prairie Rivers of Iowa is working with landowners, local government and other organizations to restore bumble bee, other pollinator and wildlife habitat. “Now that we know that the rusty patched bumble bee is still here and where its range might extend, we are stepping up our outreach and educational efforts to insure more habitat is in place,” Stein explains.

Prairie Rivers has pollinator garden planning services available to landowners throughout the year and seasonally operates a free native seed bank. Another related effort to encourage Ames citizens to plant native vegetation and restore habitat is the city’s cost share rebate available through their Smart Watersheds program. “This is exciting news. We enjoy working with Prairie Rivers and their pollinator program to increase native vegetation and habitat throughout Ames, including in our parks and storm water projects,” says City of Ames Municipal Engineer Tracy Peterson.

According to Stein, “Planting their favorite flowers along with several species that can bloom between March and October is necessary to care for the rusty patched bumble bee. They have an affinity for Joe-Pye weed, bee balm and both yellow and anise hyssop and seem to prefer areas near rivers and streams.”

On Friday evening August 20 Prairie Rivers of Iowa is hosting the event “Butterflies, Bees and Brews – Oh My” at Alluvial Brewing in Ames to celebrate the organization’s 21st birthday and raise funds to help with their habitat restoration efforts for the rusty patched. Alluvial Brewery is making a specially crafted blueberry hydromel mead made with locally sourced honey for the event that is being featured along with live music by Sandy Clark – The Signing Scientist, prairie walks lead by Stein, a raffle, local food truck vendors and more. To learn details about the celebration and to purchase tickets visit prrcd.org.


Prairie Rivers of Iowa Unveils Two Interpretive Panels Showcasing History and Geography Along the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway

Prairie Rivers of Iowa Unveils Two Interpretive Panels Showcasing History and Geography Along the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway

by PR & Marketing Coordinator Mike Kellner and Development and Event Coordinator Lisa Cassady

The Prairie Rivers of Iowa Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway™ – A National Scenic Byway program recently facilitated the design and installation of two interpretive panels as part of a ten-panel project using grant funding from the Union Pacific Railroad Community Ties Giving Program and Humanities of Iowa along with a cash match courtesy of The Burke Heritage Foundation. The panels offer travelers and their families safe, fun, educational and engaging activities while road tripping along the Byway.

Travelers driving through Belle Plaine can discover a treasured legacy that has stood for more than four generations. In celebration, the Preston’s Station Historic District and the Prairie Rivers of Iowa unveiled a new interpretive panel on May 1. Visitors viewing the panel will learn about the district’s history and see the faces behind its 100 plus year legacy.

“We are honored to be one the sites to have been selected to install an interpretive panel,” says Preston’s Station Historic District owner Mary Helen Preston, “This panel showcases four generations of Prestons that began in 1913 when my great grandfather followed the Union Pacific to Belle Plaine for work and while watching the Lincoln Highway be rerouted through the town.”

Preston's Station Historic District Interpretive Panel

Mary Helen Preston and her husband Garry Hevalow shown here with the new interpretive panel telling the story of Preston’s Station generational legacy.

From great grandfather to grandfather, to father, to daughter Mary Preston and her husband Garry, the family has remained Preston Station’s caretakers preserving the property and telling the story of how important the railroad and the Lincoln Highway have been to Belle Plaine.

Located at 402 13th Street in Belle Plaine, Preston’s Station was listed to the National Register of Historic Places in September 2020. It comprises an old gas station, a garage and motel. Visitors can appreciate what travel was like during the past along the Lincoln Highway while experiencing vintage gas pumps, signage and memorabilia.

A second panel featuring the Missouri and Mississippi Divide near Arcadia, Iowa along the Byway. The site marks the point where the water flows either east to the Mississippi River or west to the Missouri River.  It was unveiled on June 10 during a ceremony featuring remarks form Arcadia’s Mayor John Kevin Lieschti. “The Great Divide Road Side Park symbolizes the importance transportation has played in shaping our small town and its unique geographic location,” said Mayor Lieschti. “Arcadia’s location along the Lincoln Highway has also played an important role in bringing travelers and people to our town.” The town will be celebrating its 150th Birthday on Labor Day Weekend with a parade on Saturday, September 4.

M & Divide Interpretive Panel Unveiling

M & M Divide interpretive panel marks the point where the water flows either east to the Mississippi River or west to the Missouri River.

The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway – A National Scenic Byway in Iowa is managed by Prairie Rivers of Iowa in cooperation with the Iowa Department of Transportation. Prairie Rivers’ mission is to preserve its history and tell the hundreds of stories from along its 470 miles running east to west, river to river through 43 communities in 13 counties in the state.

Algae: The Double-Edged Sword

Algae: The Double-Edged Sword

by Guest Contributor Mark Rasmussen
Note: Mark retires as the Director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture on June 30, 2021
A native of Nebraska, he holds degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and an MBA from Iowa State (1996).

We humans seem to have affection and fascination with the color green—the green of money, the green grass of spring after a long winter, the green of a Christmas tree or the expanse of leaves in a deciduous forest.

Nevertheless, there are some forms of green that we look upon with suspicion or have grown to dislike—the green water of an algae bloom or the pond scum that covers the surface of our favorite beach.  

Algae Bloom

We tend to lump different forms of life under the general term “algae” (including cyanobacteria, also referred to as blue-green algae, which are technically not algae at all!), so our relationship with algae can be confusing and somewhat complicated.

As photosynthetic organisms, algae use energy from sunlight to produce oxygen.  Over many eons of time, they are responsible for much of the oxygen in the atmosphere, and they are the original source of fossil carbon transformed deep in the earth into crude oil and natural gas. Algae are also the basis of many food chains in aquatic environments.

We look upon algae with favor when they are used to produce biofuels and nutrient-rich dietary supplements. Then there are the “other” algae that are more suspect—blue-green algae.  (Remember, the blue-green algae are technically not algae at all, but early taxonomists used the term and it stuck.)  We especially need to be concerned with the blue-green algae that produce toxins as we enter another growing season here in Iowa.

Cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, tend to do well in warm, slow-flowing, or stagnant water when both nitrogen and phosphorus are abundant and available. These nutrients, along with sunlight and temperature are the primary drivers of their growth. Some species can grow very rapidly in what is called a bloom.  In a pond, they can be part of the natural process of turning a water body eutrophic when dense growth can cause a reduction in animal life due to the absence or limitation of oxygen.  In our agricultural world, blue-green algae growth can be the result of poor nutrient management when high levels of nutrients get into surface waters and stimulate growth.

Along with rapid growth, the production of harmful toxins from certain species of blue-green algae is of great concern. Children and small pets with less body mass are highly susceptible.  The toxins can also impact wildlife when they drink contaminated water.  Dried biomass on shore can also be toxic if inhaled as dust. Research has discovered that people who live or spend a lot of time near contaminated water have a greater risk of health effects just from being near this kind of water.

Toxin production in critical species is also stimulated by increased water temperature.  Therefore, we see more problems later in the summer as bodies of water warm.  Iowa began testing surface water in 2000, and every summer, beach closings and alerts are issued for water that has elevated levels of algae toxins. Climate change and hot summers which warm the water faster also stimulate toxin production and can be expected to increase the problem.

It is difficult and expensive to purify water for drinking when water sources are contaminated, and most water treatment plants do not have that kind of purification capacity.  Last year the water in the Des Moines River in central Iowa was not useable for many weeks as a primary source due to the high level of toxins contained in the water.  Once contaminated, dilution with cleaner water is about the only solution.

Given that we can expect this problem to get worse, we must redouble our effort to keep nutrients out of the water.  We cannot control the water temperature nor the hours of sunlight, but we can do something about the nutrient loading in our surface waters.  Unless we do more, we can expect there to be more problems with water quality in Iowa.

Plenty of Tasty Treats Along the Byway During Dairy Month

Plenty of Tasty Treats Along the Byway During Dairy Month

During National Dairy this June, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy your favorite sweet treat while traveling along the 460 miles of Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway – A National Scenic Byway in Iowa. Starting in Clinton and working your way across the state to Council Bluffs there are plenty of family-owned shops to stop at and delight in a tasty ice cream treat!

Cookie Monster and Superman Ice Cream
Smilees Ice Cream in DeWitt

How about weighing in on who’s going to win the rumble between Superman ice cream and Cookie Monster ice cream while at Carol’s Original Dairy Treat in Clinton? Then stop further down the road at Smillee’s Ice cream in DeWitt and taste their super-premium chocolate.

Small family-owned Parlor City Ice Cream has served up unique treats like their Smores and Thin Mint sundaes in Cedar Rapids and Marion for over fifty years! From there drive over to Tama’s Dairy Sweet Treats (formerly the Sugar Shack) and have a Daisy’s Twister.

Head further west to Starbuck’s Drive-In in Nevada, family-owned not the chain, for flavors like blackberry, key lime, and strawberry.

Stop in Jefferson for a triple threat that features twins. How’s that for a twister? You can’t beat a root beer float from A & W, then stop at Twiins Shoppe (yes two ii’s) for a goodie, and finish up your visit at Ice Cube Concessions and Skating Rink in Spring Lake County Park for some hand-dipped Ashby’s Sterling Ice Cream before you strap on your roller skates!

The Dairy Mart in Glidden boasts “Good Food and Better Ice Cream” while Nutshelle’s Dairy Sweet in Woodbine has malts, shakes, sundaes, floats, and cones along with pints and quarts to take home and savor!

Finally, you reach Council Bluffs on Iowa’s western border where Christy Crème, a true neighborhood mom and pop locally-owned since 1954 rotates ten different flavors of sherbet daily. Whatever your sweet tooth desires, you cannot go wrong with this lineup!

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