Prairie Rivers of Iowa Has Had a Busy and Productive 2023

Prairie Rivers of Iowa Has Had a Busy and Productive 2023

Hello and Happy 2023,

Prairie Rivers of Iowa has had a busy and productive 2023 in Iowa, working on a variety of important initiatives related to creating a healthier natural environment and preserving the rich cultural heritage of Iowa.   As we end this year, we have touched kids, families, landowners, historic homeowners and business owners, communities, natural resource professionals, like-minded not-for-profits and oversaw a national prairie conference in Iowa.

Here’s a summary of some of the key accomplishments and initiatives this year:

EDUCATIONAL VIDEO SERIES – We created a weekly video series for YouTube and Instagram The Clean Water Act: 50 Years, 50 Facts. We produced 45 short videos filmed at dozens of locations (including knee deep in a marsh) and featuring 5 music parodies.  The educational videos covered various aspects of water conservation, law and policy.

Water Testing Ioway Creek Near Stratford in Hamitlon County

MONTHLY STREAM MONITORINGConducted monthly monitoring of at least 15 streams, providing updates in the Prairie Rivers monthly newsletter.  Additionally, coordinated volunteer “snapshots” with neighboring counties and supported school groups interested in water monitoring. Additionally, we published a 65-page report analyzing water quality data, including a novel way of looking at the data.

SECURED A NATIONAL FOUNDATION GRANT – This grant assists us in building a network for interpreting water quality monitoring data.  Seven partners joined Prairie Rivers to focus at sharing best practices, looking for tools to monitor E. coli in our streams, providing a monthly opportunity to express their concerns and planning for an Iowa Water Summit in 2024.

Ioway Creek Cleanup

TWO TRASH CLEANUPS — (1) May 2023 — Cleaned Ioway Creek by canoe, S. Grand to S. 16th St (Ames), 40 participants.  The trash collected weighed 3,020 pounds and included 20 tires and three rims. Partners included: Story County Conservation, Skunk River Paddlers, the City of Ames, Outdoor Alliance of Story County.  (2) August 14, 2023 – Cleaned a tributary of Ioway Creek in Stuart Smith Park (Ames), on foot, nine volunteers, 350 pounds of trash removed.  Partners included Iowa Rivers Revival, Green Iowa AmeriCorps and the City of Ames.

POLLINATOR CONSERVATION Launched a 10-year plan involving over 40 persons serving on a committee to support pollinator conservation.  This plan is aimed at conserving pollinators and their habitats, which are crucial for the environment.  You can see the plan at www.prrcd.org.

Monarch Magic Family Fun Event on September 9th, 2023

MONARCH MAGIC Held the first Monarch tagging event in September, where over 300 kids, their families, and others learned about pollinators and tagged 146 Monarchs.  We had 10 sponsors and partners at Ada Hayden Heritage Park and plan to do it again in 2024.

HISTORIC RESOURCE PRESERVATIONReceived a grant from Iowa Cultural Affairs and successfully surveyed 319 historic listings on the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway.  In 2024, we will present the findings to elected officials and other interested persons in the 43 communities along the Byway to inform and develop a plan for the restoration and preservation of these important Iowa heritage properties.

BYWAY COORDINATOR AND PROJECTS – Hired a new Byway Coordinator, Jeanie Hau, who is actively working to support our Byway projects.  Prairie Rivers signed a new contract with the Iowa DOT to support work on the Iowa Valley Scenic Byway extending our efforts to preserve Iowa’s heritage.  This Byway begins on Highway 30, Montour turnoff, and travels through the Amana Colonies for a total of 77 miles.

TRAVELING EXHIBITThe Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway traveling exhibit called The Promise Road:  How the Lincoln Highway Changed America has been displayed at various locations, allowing visitors to learn about the rich history of this historic road.  It’s available for display in museums, libraries, and other community spaces.  So far the exhibit has traveled to Jefferson, Grand Junction, State Center, Nevada, Linn County Historical Society: The History Center, Cedar Rapids History Museum, Nevada Library, Marion Public Library, Carroll Public Library, Harrison County Welcome Center, and currently at the Council Bluffs Public Library.

Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Traveling Exhibit

We cannot do this work without your support!

Today, we are asking you as a supporter to make an end-of-year gift of $50.00 to Prairie Rivers of Iowa.  Your support shows us to keep up the good work!   You can make a gift here online or by going to our donation page for additional options. We know that as good stewards of the land, you see how important this work is today.

It is so important for a not-for-profit to receive gifts from individuals. Hearing from you encourages and supports our very difficult work in support of the natural and cultural resources in Iowa.
Thank you!

Board of Directors
Reed Riskedahl, President
Mark Rasmussen, Treasurer
Doug Cooper, Secretary
Erv Klaas
Bob Ausberger
Chuck Stewart
Rick Dietz
Jim Richardson
Christopher Barber

Staff
Mike Kellner, Marketing and Public Relations
Dan Haug, Water Quality Specialist
Jessica Butters, Pollinator Conservation Specialist
Jeanie Hau, Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway & Iowa Valley Scenic Byway Coordinator
Carman Rosburg, Office Manager
Daniel Huber, Technology
Shellie Orngard, Historic Properties Consultant

One-Time Donate to Prairie Rivers of Iowa
Iowa’s Lincoln Highway Is Now a National Scenic Byway!

Iowa’s Lincoln Highway Is Now a National Scenic Byway!

The long awaited announcement came the morning of February 16th, 2021 that the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway has been given the designation of a National Scenic Byway!
This was a long-awaited award and work towards it began in 2016 when working on the Corridor Management Plan (CMP)and talked about even prior to that.

The Lincoln Highway, although the first improved transcontinental road in the nation, is a fairly newer byway in Iowa. The Department of Transportation’s Scenic Byway program is over 20 years old. The Lincoln Highway was nominated by the Iowa Lincoln Highway Association and brought into the fold as a state byway in 2006 (making it 15 years in 2021).

Woodbine’s bricked Lincoln Highway

A byway is made up of 6 intrinsic qualities: archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic. The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway’s main quality is historic and we focus on that aspect in many of our programs and marketing materials. To be a National Scenic Byway one of these qualities needs to be of high value and the route has to already be recognized as a state byway through their DOT.

The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Corridor Management Plan (CMP).

As part of Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s agreement with the Iowa DOT to manage this byway, we created a CMP using criteria set out by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). We held community meetings and visited with residents, government officials (local, county, and state) and other organizations to see what amenities existed in each of the intrinsic qualities. Our plan gathered ideas and feelings of the 13 counties and 43 communities our byway ties together as we prepared our to-do lists of projects. One of the topics, and identified as a state-wide project, was for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway to apply to be a National Scenic Byway.

There was only one small problem. The National Scenic Byway program was sitting on FHWA’s shelf. It was still a program, but was not active and not being funded. It wasn’t revived until 2020 when the program welcomed new designations (no funding included). The stars had aligned for us- the Scenic Byway program was revived and taking applications, we had a completed our CMP, we also had an Interpretive Master Plan, and we had overwhelming support of our communities to make this application. See https://www.prrcd.org/lincoln-highway-corridor-management-plan/for the full CMP.

Once the work began in earnest on the multi-page application, we needed to identify 8 important locations that supported our chosen “Historic” quality. It was difficult to narrow the choices down to just 8 and even them out across Iowa to show an accurate impression of the Lincoln Highway route in Iowa.

The locations chosen were:

  • The Sawmill Museum, Clinton
  • Youngville Cafe, rural Benton County
  • Preston’s Station Historic District, Belle Plaine
  • Lincoln Highway Bridge, Tama
  • Reed-Niland Corner, Colo
  • Carroll Railroad Depot, Carroll
  • Brick Street, Woodbine
  • Harrison County Historical Village and Welcome Center, Missouri Valley
Youngville Cafe, rural Benton County, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Built by Joe Young in his pasture for his widowed daughter to operate the gas station, cafe, and cabins. She and her children lived upstairs.

Also included in the application was a route map and a turn-by-turn description of the 460+ mile Iowa Byway route, traveler information about nearby airports and interstates/highways, restroom availability, brochures and marketing materials that are available, etc. It was a very intensive application and took a team to write it and to create the map.

Our application was reviewed and submitted in June 2020 by the Iowa DOT and then the waiting began. FHWA said in late summer 2020 that they had made their recommendations to the Office of Administration and Office of Transportation for them to review and approve the list. Approval finally happened on January 19, 2021 but the announcement not made until February 16th.

We are so excited to embark on this new journey as a National Scenic Byway and the exposure we will receive now on a national level. Even during a pandemic, we have been delighted to see visitors check-in to locations in our new passport program with Travel Iowa. This program rolled out in January 2020 and will run for a year. All eight of the above locations are, or will be, a part of this passport program. It’s another way we encourage people to travel and learn more about this historic road.

We’ll see you on the Byway – now a NATIONAL Scenic Byway!

Come Explore on the Lincoln Highway!

Come Explore on the Lincoln Highway!

One month in and 2021 is looking very promising for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway! The Iowa Scenic Byways Passport Program rolled out on January 5th. Our Byway office in Ames is one of the stops and people are visiting us and picking up our free travel information. It’s great to see travelers out enjoying Iowa, even in the winter months. Go to Iowa Scenic Byway Passport (traveliowa.com) and join the nearly 2,500 that have already entered the program. By checking into each new location on your cell phone, you are entered into a drawing for a gift basket worth hundreds of dollars from one of the Byways. Our gift basket month is April.


And why April, you ask? Well, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway turns 15-years old on March 31st so we will spend the month of April celebrating our birthday. We hope to know by then if we are selected to be a National Scenic Byway and then we’ll have even more to celebrate.


Speaking of celebrations, we are planning unveiling ceremonies for all of our newly installed interpretive panels. Two panels are completed and waiting for spring to arrive and installation to occur. They are at Preston’s Station Historic District in Belle Plaine and the Missouri and Mississippi Divide pull-off near Arcadia. Four more are in the design phase. 1. Yellow Smoke Park near Denison about the Bowstring Bridge, 2. Eureka Bridge near Jefferson, 3. Marshall County Courthouse in Marshalltown, and 4. Woodbine about their town and brick streets. We are waiting to hear on funding for a 4-panel installation in Clinton. We should know by May and get those designed and installed as well.

Mary Preston and her husband, Garry Hevalow, accepting the interpretive panel for Preston’s Station Historic District in Belle Plaine. Installation will be Spring 2021.


We’d like to thank the Union Pacific Railroad Community Ties Giving program, Humanities Iowa, Burke Heritage Fund, Woodbine Main Street, Marshalltown Chamber of Commerce Tourism, and Rotary Club of Denison for their grants and donations towards this project.


The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway is rolling with COVID-19 and its challenges. We are promoting locations that allow for social distancing and zero touch-points. Go to our webpage and under “Take a Road Trip” http://Take a Road Trip! – Prairie Rivers of Iowa (prrcd.org) you will find our brochures to help plan your trip across Iowa on the Lincoln Highway. We have an Info Guide (an overall brochure of things to see and do), Recreational and Camping brochure, Junior Explorer booklet (for kids), 1919 Army Convoy brochure, and our most recent- Breweries, Distilleries, and Wineries in Eastern Iowa. Whatever your interest, you should find something either educational, entertaining, or relaxing on the Lincoln Highway. We’ll see you on the Byway!

When planning a trip along the Lincoln Highway, use our brochures as guides.
The Junior Explorer booklet has games for kids to play in the car.


The Strength and Power of Public Support

Public support can do wonderful things and we are witnessing its strength during this COVID-19 pandemic. We are seeing people come together as seamstresses make masks, distilleries make hand sanitizers, and manufacturers retool to make personal protective equipment (PPE). Social distancing, no large groups, and wearing masks are our new “normal.” Hopefully there will be a vaccine soon to eradicate this virus.

Re-reading the Winter edition of The Lincoln Highway Forum https://www.lincolnhighwayassoc.org/forum/, our attention was drawn to an article written in 1914 by Henry B. Joy, President of the Lincoln Highway Association. He talks about public support for the Lincoln Highway and commented that the Highway helped spur the improved road movement for two reasons: 1) It was a definite accomplishment with a “real, tangible goal towards which to work as well as crystallizing scattered efforts.” 2) It was a monumental tribute to “our martyred president.”

The 3,400 miles of road was in need of improvements and Carl Fisher, the idea man behind the Lincoln Highway,  had an initial cost estimate of $10,000,000. He and the Association began fundraising efforts. Initial funds of $300,000 come from a variety of sources including the President of the United States, state governors, US Senators and Representatives, large industrial organizations. and high dignitaries of many religious denominations. Among the most heartwarming donations were bags of pennies, nickles, and dimes from the school children in a small Nebraska town and seven cents from children in an Alaskan school.

Henry B. Joy in the official LHA Packard, in 1915 stuck in the “gumbo” near LaMoille, Iowa.

The Association appointed state, county, and local consuls (representatives) representing the “highest class of citizens in every community- bankers, clergymen and business men of all kinds”- to organize the Association on a local level as they raised funds, exerted political influence, and gave their time, energy, and money freely to carry out the work. The Association office then turned its attention to promotion as it felt this network was strong enough to encourage the necessary improvements on a local level.

We see these local efforts when, in 1915, the Tama community pooled their money to create a unique bridge with side panels that spell out “LINCOLN HIGHWAY”. In 2018-2019, they once again helped out by supplementing restoration funds for the same bridge. 

This is what Americans do. See a need and fill it. We give our time, talents, and money. We build roads. We make masks and donate them. We get groceries for someone at risk or in quarantine. We care for the sick. We rush into buildings to save lives. We will get through this COVID-19 pandemic and come out the other side as a more compassionate and cohesive nation and when we do, we will travel the Lincoln Highway- the road America built.

Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Spring 2020

Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Spring 2020

Monarch on a Swamp Milkweed by Carl Kurtz

There are signs of spring 2020 along the Lincoln Highway! In some places, snow has melted away and some flowers are busting through the soil. That means spring is just around the corner. Home and Garden Shows are being held in many communities across Iowa. Also Camping and Boating shows! These types of events get people excited for warmer weather and for the eventual summer.

Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Recreation and Camping Guide

  Also check our our Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Recreation and Camping brochure for ideas of where you can go along our route and enjoy the outdoors.  https://old.prrcd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/10-18.UPD-Camp26RecBrochure.pdf What preparations are you making for spring? Cleaning closets? Raking the yard? Perusing garden catalogs and magazines? Getting your fishing gear ready? We all know that Thursday, March 19th is the first official day of spring, but, as Iowans, we know it can still snow in April and be chilly in May. What can we do in preparation in the meantime for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway to get ready for spring? We know the Department of Transportation is tasked with handling the physical road repairs, but what can we do as a group or as an individual for the Byway? On my way to work today, I noticed some trash along the ditches and medians. Does your section of road have groups that participate in Adopt-A-Highway? If not, do you know of a group that could? Now I am not suggesting that you go into the median of a busy highway yourself to pick up trash without proper training or a safety vest, but if you are a landowner perhaps cleaning up your own ditch makes sense. (I know most do already.) If you live in the city, as I do now, ask your city how you can be part of a city-wide cleanup day. Perhaps there is a group that spruces up the entrance to your town to make it more inviting, not only for visitors, but for residents. This makes an impact on all and increases community pride. Some communities do a “swap” where leaders in one community go to another to view the community through “new eyes” as to what works well and what could be improved. Then leaders from that community go to the other and do the same type of review. Sometimes we don’t even notice things in our own back yard as we are accustomed to them. The official Iowa Byways sign for the Lincoln Highway Heritage BywayAre there buildings that could do with a fresh coat of paint? Every year Paint Iowa Beautiful offers, through a grant application process, a chance to obtain paint through their program. (Sorry the 2020 deadline has passed, but please remember this for next year.)

One of my spring goals is to finish the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway signage inventory. I know there are signs in 2 counties and 2 communities that I need to address. It’s been an on-going process for several years now. (There are 1200 signs across the state to monitor!)

Also on my list of to-do’s are to continue supporting attractions that are in need of restoration. Preston’s Station, Quirks’ Cabins, and a gas station in Montour are among the priorities. We are also planning several interpretive installations across the state that will increase education and promotion of the road.

Preston’s Station Historic District in Belle Plaine, Iowa taken by Mike Kelly

Let us know what spring events you have in the works and how we can help you promote them.