Reflecting on the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Project

Reflecting on the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Project

This project that was funded through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) is coming to a close early this December. It allowed us the means to engage with several local people about the need for wildlife and pollinator habitats in central Iowa. I’d like to take the time to reflect on all the great work that we’ve done through this grant. Here are the highlights of our accomplishments of over the last three years with a few numbers.

6 Field Days were held on the following topics: Hamilton County Wetlands, CRP/Pollinator Habitat, Saturated Buffers, Multi-Scale Habitat Restoration, Story County Wetlands, Orchard, and Prairie Pollination.

220 People attended field days between 2019 and 2021

CRP Pollinator Habitat Field Day

5 Webinars were held in 2021 on the following topics: Water Quality, Ethnobotany, Planting for Pollinators, Citizen Science Opportunities, and Habitat Financial Assistance.

119 People attended our webinars in 2021

Which Water Worry Where Webinar

6 Water Quality Snapshots were held each spring and autumn between 2019 and 2021.

113 Volunteers tested water quality during our snapshot events.

Which Water Worry Where Webinar

36 Landowners were provided with technical assistance for nutrient reduction, water quality, wildlife habitat, and erosion issues.

30 Species of native plants were offered through the Community Seed Bank Program started in 2019.

96 Landowners were provided with native seeds through the Community Native Seed Bank

179 Acres of pollinator habitat were restored or enhanced through the Community Native Seed Bank

Native Seed Bank

9 County Maps were developed to find the ideal placement for new habitat installation.

10 Years of water quality monitoring were planned through a collaborative group of Story County stakeholders.

Story County Water Monitoring and Interpretation Plan
The Lincoln Highway Bridge Over Mud Creek in Tama in Need of Repair

The Lincoln Highway Bridge Over Mud Creek in Tama in Need of Repair

One of the most iconic bridges in the 3,389 mile length of the historic transcontinental Lincoln Highway is in Tama, Iowa, and its structural integrity is in need of repair. As manager of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway, Prairie Rivers of Iowa has been working with the City of Tama to restore and protect the bridge, but process delays and COVID have slowed progress to a near standstill.

Tama Bridge showing state of disrepair
Military Vehicle Preservation Association crossing Tama Bridge in 2019

The Tama Lincoln Highway bridge holds an important place in the history of transportation in our country. It was constructed in 1915 when Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States and before we got tangled up in World War I. It was the year Babe Ruth hit his first career home run. Half of the US population lived on the farm, and most transportation was still by foot or horse. The Model T was popular and promised increased mobility but roads could be treacherous, especially after a rain. 

The idea for the first improved transcontinental highway generated support across the country and gave birth to the Lincoln Highway Association. Towns along the roadway’s charted path were grateful for the honor, anticipating an influx of travelers and hence growth in commerce.

Tama’s now-famous bridge was constructed to attract interest and burnish the town’s image as a destination. Designed by Iowa Highway Commission architect Paul N. Kingsley, the Lincoln Highway Bridge is distinctive for spelling out the name of the roadway in its railings. Concrete lampposts topped by globe lights decorated the bridge’s four corners, adding to its graceful charm.

The Tama bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, nominated by the Tama Bicentennial Commission. The nomination included a quote from the July 1919 Lincoln Highway Forum, a publication of the Lincoln Highway Association, asserting that the bridge is “a good example of up-to-date highway advertising. Tourists over this section of the famous road cannot fail to be impressed with the advertising values as well as the pleasing and distinctive appearance of this unique feature of bridge construction.”

While the bridge has continued to attract admirers over the years, time has taken its toll. Prairie Rivers of Iowa has worked with the City of Tama to assess the integrity and safety of the bridge and put together a plan for its restoration. In 2018 PRI applied for and received a grant from the state Historical Resource Development Program of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs to help cover the costs. Additional support and funding has come from the Iowa Lincoln Highway Association, the Mansfield Foundation, and other donors, but a series of delays and the advent of COVID have held up progress. In October of this year, the Iowa DOT informed Tama that Iowa Code necessitates yet another delay to gather additional information and rebid the work. Meanwhile, the original cost estimate of $115,000 has mushroomed to over $300,000.

The Tama-Toledo News Chronicle reported in October that the City of Tama is planning to re-bid the project and complete the repair by August 2022, but the situation is being closely monitored by PRI, the Iowa Lincoln Highway Association, and history buffs across the nation.


Introducing Our New Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Coordinator

Introducing Our New Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Coordinator

My introduction to historic preservation began with the “Condemned Building” sign posted on the door I passed through to get to my desk when I was a graduate student at Iowa State University. The building was Agricultural Hall, then called Old Botany. Despite its state of disrepair, I was enchanted by the red brick with limestone trim and stately architecture. I imagined the stories of myriad students who passed through the same doorway in earlier days, on their ways to classes, degrees, jobs, and careers.

Shelly Orngard

Disturbed by the prospect of the building’s demolition, I volunteered to research and write an article about it for the student newspaper, perhaps stir up some interest in its preservation. In an interview with the staff person responsible for Old Botany, I asked about saving the structure and was told “why would we invest money in repairing this building when we could build a new one for the same money?” I countered, “you can build a new building, but you can’t build an old one.”

I don’t think I had much to do with the salvation of that beautiful old building, but I do know it now graces the north side of ISU’s Central Campus. Now named Carrie Chapman Catt Hall, it is one of the jewels of the campus.

Not every old structure has the intrinsic qualities of Catt Hall, but they all have a story, and many are worth preserving, protecting, and promoting. That is why I am so pleased to be given the opportunity to do this work along the Lincoln Highway as the Iowa Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Coordinator.

As I said to my son this week, one of the blessings of getting older is the feeling that everything I’ve done previously in life has prepared me for the work I’m now doing. The stories my grandmother told me of growing up in Buena Vista County in the early 20th Century gave me an appreciation of history and preserving the stories and artifacts of the past. This paved the way for my advocating for preserving the historic Catt and Morrill buildings on the Iowa State University campus, and then serving five years on the City of Ames Historic Preservation Commission and supporting the Ames Main Street District. I bought a circa 1915 house in the historic North Old Town of Ames and am continuously working to restore its historical integrity while adapting it to modern convenience. And my work at WOI Radio and the Iowa State University Press, teaching writing in ISU’s Department of English, helping teach and coordinate the place-based education course Life in Iowa, and editing the Agricultural History journal have helped me think and communicate on living well on this land between two rivers.

Running 460 miles through 13 counties and 43 communities, not to mention some of God’s most fertile green earth, the Lincoln Highway contains beautiful one-of-a-kind structures like the Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama, restored tourist stops like Youngville Station near Watkins, and vestiges of a bygone era like Watson’s Grocery Store in State Center. But for every one of those that is preserved and protected, there are many that are not and whose stories remain buried. Every year, cities are rebuilt, all too frequently destroying the opportunity for restoration.

I hope you’ll join me in this process of discovering our shared history and preserving it for future generations.

Youngville Station
Lincoln Highway Bridge Tama, Iowa
Watson's Grocery
Tall Grass Prairie Restoration Follow Up

Tall Grass Prairie Restoration Follow Up

Chris Taliga at Wild and Scenic Film Festival Presented by Prairie Rivers of Iowa

NRCS PLANTS Data Team Plant Ecologist Chris Taliga, a featured presenter at our Wild and Scenic Film Festival, shared with the audience a little about the restoration of prairie on her family’s farm. I recently followed up with Chris to learn more about the restoration and what best practices she suggests for those wanting to get started with a similar project of their own!

PRI: Can you summarize what efforts you and your family have taken to restore your 160 acres of Iowa land into a prairie?

Chris: We bought this farm 22 years ago seeking to restore tall grass prairie and to develop a conservation approach that is in harmony with life on the farm and the environment.

We began by bringing back fire on the parts of the farm that were pasture (roughly half of the land area) in an effort to see if we could find remnant native vegetation. We also immediately seeded down eroded waterways, contour buffer strips and filter strips (to a mixture of native prairie species) on the parts of the farm that were leased for farming.

We also thoroughly inventoried the vegetation. We knew early on that conserving our soil and water resources and enhancing the environment for all life on the farm were top priorities for us which is why we committed to using organic practices in our restoration efforts. We have been managing this farm organically for the past twenty years and were first certified organic in 2006. We have felt all along that this approach would help us protect our natural resources.

Taliga Family Farm Prairie Restoration

After our farming lease expired we enrolled roughly 1/3 of the farm into the Conservation Reserve Program and have slowly added additional acreage into the Conservation Reserve Program over the years.

Along with prescribed fire we also mowed, chopped, pulled, and sawed non-native invasive species. We collected seed, purchased seed, and inter-seeded areas after our prescribed fires. Most seeding was done by broadcasting and some of the seeding we hired out with a no-till drill. In areas we did not seed, we recognized native grass like (graminoid) species, mostly native upland sedges, which had persisted in our pasture in a few areas less than 0.1 acres in size with some remnant flowers such as pale purple coneflower but very little other native vegetation.

Over the years we have continued to burn and seed and have been rewarded with large stands of native tall grass prairie vegetation throughout the farm.  We now collect seed and sell our certified organic prairie seed geared mainly to the home landscape as we deal in very small quantities.  There is always more work on the farm, besides seed collection we are also working on addressing some issues along the banks of two of the streams traversing our farm.

PRI: How long have you been at it?
Chris: Since 1999.

PRI: What three best practices would you recommend to others wanting to get started with a similar prairie restoration on their land?
Chris: Identify and tackle the most critical areas first, either areas you need to seed down to address soil erosion or a weed issue, this allows you to start small and learn from your experience.

Persistence & patience, native vegetation takes time, be sure you stay on top of the mowing and weed care a native seeding requires. Establishing a native plant community also requires patience as you observe the plant community developing over time.

Continue the learning process by monitoring your work, talking to others doing similar work, develop a support community, and trusting your instincts

PRI: What steps have you taken or hope to take to put into practice perennial crop alternatives to your acreage?
Chris: We have explored a number of options over the years and currently certified organic hay and native seed are our main perennial crops.

PRI: What improvements/benefits have you seen over time because of your efforts?
Chris: We have seen reduction in soil erosion, and multifold increase in native plant biodiversity and increased abundance of wildlife including native grassland birds and pollinators. We also see signs of better water quality in our creeks and ponds.

PRI: Do you have any additional thoughts you would like to share with our readers? 
Chris: Our family has learned so much from our restoration efforts which are ongoing. We express our love for Iowa and its natural resources through our stewardship on our farm. It is wonderful to see our daughter engaged in this landscape ethic which is beyond any of our dreams when we started this endeavor.

Chris Taliga and Family

You can find Chris and Her Family on Etsy @BurtalFarmSeed.

Note From the Program Coordinator

Note From the Program Coordinator

Thank you all for joining us again on the newest addition of the Watersheds and Wildlife Newsletter. Let me go ahead and start by thanking everyone for making our most recent events a massive success! We had a lot of events in a row, and it made us so happy to see the massive amount of support shown to us. On August 28th we held our final field day for the year, and for the National Fish and Wildlife project. This field day was called Bumble Bees and Berries and was held at both the Berry Patch Farm and Jennett Heritage Area. We were lucky enough to partner with Story County Conservation, the Story SWCD, and Monarch Joint Venture. We had a total of 40 people stop by to learn all about pollinators, orchards, and prairies.

Bumble Bees and Berries Event Activity
Chad Pregracke Presentation

On September 30th, in collaboration with the City of Ames, we hosted a river cleanup lecture by Chad Pregracke at the Ames City Auditorium. His talk then inspired us, and 26 other environmental enthusiasts to get our hands dirty and our feet wet, and do a massive cleanup in Ioway Creek on the 2nd.

Our largest event by far, however, was the 2nd annual Wild and Scenic Film Festival, again held at Ames City Auditorium on October 1st. This was a night full of inspiring films, partnership building, and showing support for conservation. We hope you all enjoyed the event, and look forward to next year’s show!

Iowa PBS Wild and Scenic Film Fest Presentation

On October 23, we hosted this year’s second Water Quality Snapshot, where volunteers helped collect vital data that we can use to evaluate our waterways. Starting in November our annual Native Seed Bank will be re-opening. We hope that this year’s seed bank will be able to help restore more acres than 2019 and 2020 combined! On November 2nd, we alongside Story County Conservation will be hosting a webinar to update the public on the progress being made towards Story County water quality monitoring.

Like always, for more details about all of our upcoming events, please follow us on social media, and visit the events page on our website. Thank you again for joining us and enjoy this edition of the Watersheds and Wildlife Newsletter.

Visit here to read the entire newsletter.

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.