Prairie Rivers of Iowa Director Leaves Behind a Dynamic Tenure of Leadership

Prairie Rivers of Iowa Director Leaves Behind a Dynamic Tenure of Leadership

Prairie Rivers of Iowa Executive Director Penny Brown Huber

Prairie Rivers of Iowa Executive Director Penny Brown Huber has established a culture of teamwork, insight, and encouragement for over a decade. “Her leadership as our executive director has helped create a uniquely talented staff who are working together in our important conservation work,” boasts board chair Reed Riskedahl. Huber has announced she will step down from her position as director on December 15, 2023. The announcement was met with a sense of loss among staff, the board of directors, our partners, and many of those we serve as an organization, but we are grateful for her leadership and wish her the best in her new endeavors. We have all benefited from her encouragement, guidance, and compassion. Thank you, Penny, for the thirteen incredible years of dedicated service to Prairie Rivers of Iowa!

I recently interviewed Huber about her tenure at Prairie Rivers. Here is what she had to say:

What drew you to accept the Prairie Rivers of Iowa executive director position? Did you have a particular passion that influenced your decision?

“I was aware of the excellent work the RC&Ds were doing around the state and respected what Prairie Rivers of Iowa was accomplishing. My passion for helping people and educating them on natural resources led me to want to accept the executive director position.”

What are two to three accomplishments accomplished during your tenure that you are the proudest of?

  • “Continuing to build quality programs supported by science and employing talented and committed people to lead the way.”
  • “Expanding the Prairie Rivers of Iowa brand to serve more people and Iowa’s natural and cultural resources.”

How do you feel your influence and management style have enabled the staff and board members to work at their best? 

“Part of serving as an effective administrator is to work with our people where they are at in building their programs by supporting what they know and helping to move their projects, ideas, and opportunities forward. We cannot do our work alone, so looking for partners and supporters and building effective teams is ultimately how we get things done.”

What kind of shape is the work at Prairie Rivers of Iowa in compared to when you started? 

“The organization has grown a lot both in capacity and resources. In the beginning, it was just our Office Manager Carman Rosburg, and me in the office working with the Board of Directors to lay out a strategic plan to move the organization forward. At that time, there was a group of projects that were not related to each other. Today, we have programs with extremely talented and smart people steering the way on improving water quality, pollinator conservation, and building a vibrant byway program for the Lincoln Highway National Heritage and Iowa Valley Scenic Byways.”

What are the most critical tasks or goals you see for Prairie Rivers as the organization moves forward? 

Building program capacity to address local and statewide projects will open up opportunities for more partners, sponsors, and positive change. Bridging the educational efforts so that citizens become enthusiastic learners and supporters is a pathway to solving the very challenging problems in Iowa.

What would it be if you had to give one piece of advice to your replacement?

Make sure there is time to do strategic thinking both for the overall organization and with the program leaders. Enjoy communicating with a variety of people to really develop a sound understanding of problems and solutions. Creating positive change is about taking one step at a time and, after a period of time, looking back and seeing how you made a difference.

When commenting on moving forward as an organization, Riskedahl adds, “The partnerships that exist throughout Iowa with Prairie Rivers have flourished, and a bevy of supporters continue to give of their time and resources to keep this work progressing.”

“We greatly value the work that Penny has done and want to assure everyone that the Prairie Rivers of Iowa Board of Directors is working diligently to find a new Executive Director to continue this important work,” Riskedahl concludes.

Monarch Magic in Ames Was a Day of Adventurous Fun!

Monarch Magic in Ames Was a Day of Adventurous Fun!

Prairie Rivers of Iowa hosted the family-friendly event Monarch Magic on Saturday, September 9, at Ada Hayden Heritage Park in Ames. Attendees had the experience of tagging a monarch butterfly to help scientists track their migration and participated in many fun activities to learn more about this butterfly and other pollinators.

Over 300 individuals were in attendance and participated in diverse activities that ranged from navigating an obstacle course where kids had fun while learning caterpillar and pollinator survival tactics to helping local scientists and naturalists weigh, measure, tag, and release monarchs. One hundred and forty-six monarchs were tagged during the event.

Besides the primary goal of tagging monarchs to aid in tracking their migration to Mexico, pollinator education was front and center as well. Raising Readers in Story County gave away over 200 pollinator-themed books. Other partners like Story County Conservation, the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach /4-H Youth Development, and Bird Friendly Iowa shared their knowledge throughout the delightful adventure.

Monarch being release after tagging during Monarch Magic event.

Prairie Rivers of Iowa Pollinator Conservation Specialist Jessica Butters said it best, “The magic of the event was seeing a kid holding an insect, some for the first time, and participating in community science by tagging a monarch and setting it free!”

The ISU Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, ISU Entomology, and Prairie Rivers of Iowa board members were on hand to share their expertise while helping with tagging.

This event would not have been possible without the support of Alliant Energy, the City of Ames, the Outdoor Alliance of Story County, and the Friends of Ada Hayden Heritage Park.

Welcome Center On Unique Five-Mile Stretch

Welcome Center On Unique Five-Mile Stretch

Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Coordinator Jeanie Hau also contributed to this article.

Currently, the Lincoln Highway Traveling Exhibit is at the Harrison County Historical Village and Welcome Center located three miles northeast of Missouri Valley, Iowa. So we thought there was no better time to tell you about this exceptional complex. Owned and operated by Harrison County Conservation, the welcome center is on a unique five-mile stretch where three of Iowa’s Scenic and Heritage Byways coexist — the Western Skies Scenic Byway, the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway, and the Prairie Rivers of Iowa-managed Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway. Furthermore, the complex is listed as a welcome center for the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

omplex and conservation area which includes: a historical village, a playscape incorporating the Lincoln Highway theme, an old gas station turned into picnic shelter, one of Iowa’s 99 Freedom Rocks, an original Lincoln Highway Marker in its original location, and a mile long concrete and limestone hiking trail through a portion of Loess Hills. To top off the view from the complex, there is a balcony spelling out, “Lincoln Highway” and a station to take a selfie at.

The complex and conservation area includes a historical village, a playscape incorporating a Lincoln Highway theme, an old gas station turned into a picnic shelter, one of Iowa’s 99 Freedom Rocks, a Lincoln Highway Marker in its original location, and a mile-long hiking trail through a portion of Loess Hills. To top off the view from the complex, there is a balcony spelling out, “Lincoln Highway” and a selfie station. It’s wonderful to fill visitors in about the highway and how it got started,” boasts Welcome Center Program Director Kathy Dirks, “The center’s auditorium showcases historical photos of the Lincoln Highway many of which depict locations a traveler can still see today.”  Some Lincoln Highway in Iowa images that are on display include the First Seedling Mile, the Honey Creek Cut, the Iowa Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama, and Lincoln Way in Ames that many visitors find it hard to believe was once a muddy road Dirks remarked.

Harrison County Welome Center Playscape
Welcome Center Lincoln Highway Viewpoint
Old Gas Station Picnic Shelter

Story County Conservation – Prairie Rivers of Iowa Featured Partner

Story County Conservation – Prairie Rivers of Iowa Featured Partner

Connecting people with nature and improving natural resources — making Story County a great place to live, work, and recreate. — Story County Conservation’s Mission

Story County Conservation (SCC) maintains over 3,500 acres of parks and natural areas like prairies, wetlands, and oxbows. Special areas of focus include preserving native environments and habitat restoration, stopping the spread of invasive species,  and water quality improvement.

Recreationally, SCC offers a variety of outdoor leisure opportunities and quality recreational facilities that feature fishing, bird watching, camping, hiking, swimming, picnicking, boating, bicycling, and hunting.

They are instrumental in helping landowners develop and manage wildlife and habitat plantings and maintain vegetation along Story County roadways.

Their outstanding environmental education program works with school districts and daycares to provide programming and outdoor field trips that promote environmental awareness and fun. Visit their website here for all the details!

Story County Conservation


Prairie Rivers:  Why is it important for Story County to partner with Prairie Rivers of Iowa?

Story County ConservationThe mission of Story County Conservation is to connect people with nature and improve natural resources – making Story County a great place to live, work, and recreate.  This is only possible through meaningful partnerships.  Prairie Rivers of Iowa shares many of the same values and objectives.  Public-private partnerships leverage the unique abilities of each.  The Prairie Rivers/Story County Conservation partnership specifically provides feasible and meaningful improvements to the environmental and social fabric of the community. Through the partnership with PRI, SCC can engage residents through a volunteer citizen water monitoring program. The data collected twice a month is used by PRI to analyze trends and hotspots for pollutants in the county. The volunteer water monitoring program is part of a 10-year water monitoring plan developed by PRI, SCC, the City of Ames, the City of Nevada, the City of Gilbert, the City of Huxley, Iowa State University, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Izaak Walton League, Story County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Story County Community Foundation. Additional initiatives worked on by the SCC/PRI partnership include watershed boundary signage, creek signage, creek and river clean-ups, watershed assessments, and water quality education.


Prairie Rivers: What is the first or most important thing that comes to mind that Story County Conservation has done to inspire citizens to get out and make a difference to improve conservation efforts within the county?

Story County Conservation:  Story County Conservation engages with people in many contexts to break down barriers to help connect people with the outdoors. Whether it be through classroom programs, discovery hikes, outdoor recreation opportunities, environmental stewardship education, and involvement, or simply opportunities to enjoy nature, SCC helps people discover the values of the natural environment.

Story County Conservation Watershed Coordinator Sara Carmichael During Creek Cleanup
Small Landowner Workshop
Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring
Jerry Radke Leaves a Legacy

Jerry Radke Leaves a Legacy

Jerry Radke of Nevada, Iowa was a conservationist known for his hard work and a “yes I can” attitude with a passion for improving soil and water quality. At Jerry’s request, after his passing last fall, Prairie Rivers of Iowa received many generous donations in his memory, helping us and the citizens of Story County continue his legacy and the important work involved.

His love for the outdoors and the environment started on the family farm where at a young age Jerry helped work dairy and beef cattle, hogs, chickens, ducks, and geese. Jerry would tell the story about how at the age of three his father put him on a tractor where he had to stand and brace his head against the seat so his feet could reach the pedals.

Jerry attended a one-room school through the eight-grade, went on to graduate high school, earn a bachelor of science in soils from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a master’s in soil physics from Iowa State followed by a return to Wisconsin to earn a Ph.D. in soil physics.

Jerry Radke
Jerry Radke volunteering during a Story County Arbor Day event.

Jerry Radke (left foreground) volunteering at a Story County Soil and Water Conservation District Arbor Day event.

During his professional career as a soil physicist, Jerry worked at the North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab in Minnesota then retired from the US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research at the National Soil Tilth Lab in Ames. His work took him around the world while he continued to study soil structure, soil temperature, and instrumentation. His published articles included research related to freezing and thawing soils, plus the effects of water and nutrient movement within soil profiles.

Here at Prairie Rivers, we primarily got to know Jerry through his service as a Story County Soil and Water District (SWCD) Commissioner. When asked about what was the most important legacy that Jerry left for the citizens of Story County, his daughter Katrina Radke had a hard time pointing to just one thing. He was deeply involved with the SWCD and Story County conservation projects, the Lions Club, and the church.  “He always wanted to do what was best for the soil, conservation, nature, and recycling,” Katrina shared. “He always had a compost pile and was into reusing everything as much as possible rather than wasting it.”

“Some of our most cherished family memories were hiking and camping in Minnesota state parks and national parks throughout the country,“ Katrina fondly remembers, “Obviously, his value for the environment was big. Something else I view as a legacy from him was the good old-fashioned values of discipline, hard work, pursuing what you love to do, and immersing yourself in it. He was a very honest working good man with integrity and high expectations. Being of service to humanity and the land was important to him.”

Katrina concludes with, “I loved my dad very dearly. He was very much a part of my life in terms of a creative voice and teacher.”

If you’d like to reach out to Jerry’s family with a note, please email his wife Susan at or his daughter Katrina at

Here at Prairie Rivers of Iowa, we are grateful for the memorials given in honor of Jerry Radke and his family. If you or a loved one have questions about establishing a memorial to assist Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s work, please contact our Director Penny Brown Huber.