Legacy Sediment for Fourth Graders

Legacy Sediment for Fourth Graders

For Iowa History Month, I’d like to talk about legacy sediment—historic erosion that has a big influence on sediment, phosphorus, and fisheries in rivers today.  For a change of pace, this article is written at the fourth-grade reading level.  I like big words like “fluvial geomorphology” but not everyone does.  Okay!  Let’s have some fun learning!

The faster the water moves, the more stuff it can carry. Fast-moving water washes away the tiny stones (sand and silt).  It leaves behind the bigger stones (gravel). Slower moving water washes away the silt but leaves behind the sand.  If a beaver or a person dams up the water and it really slows down, even the silt settles out. That’s why mountain streams have rocky bottoms but lowland streams have muddy bottoms. It’s also why there are sand bars on the inside of river bends where the water moves more slowly.

Photo by Dan Haug. Note the transition from silt to sand to gravel to rocks going left to right from slower to faster water.

Plants’ roots and leaves can keep dirt from washing away, and so do the tiny things that live on plant roots. They actually make a glue that holds the dirt together!  There’s been a few times when dirt and rocks moved a lot faster than normal because there weren’t any plants growing. Twelve thousand years ago, there weren’t any plants in my part of Iowa because the land was covered in a big sheet of melting ice. It happened again 190 years ago when farmers started moving in and plowing up the grass to grow crops. The ground was bare for most of the year, so dirt washed off the hills and filled up the valleys. 90 years ago, farmers realized this was a problem and got more careful about how they plowed. But then 50 years ago some of them forgot and weren’t as careful.  But they remembered again, so it’s better now. (Read more about this history here)

Figure adapted from Beck et al. 2018. Photo by Hanna McBrearty.

There’s still lots of soft mud in the valleys from those days.  That’s a problem because the water moves a lot faster now. Partly that’s because there’s more pavement and fewer marshes. Partly that’s because people straightened out some of the curves in the rivers. The fast water hits the soft mud and makes little canyons all over Iowa. The water can’t get out of the canyons unless there’s a really big flood so it almost never slows down. The canyons are not as pretty as the Grand Canyon and the fish don’t like them as much. The soft mud in the river valleys also has fertilizer in it that can make the water turn green. The fish don’t like that either.

Photo by Dan Haug. Steep bank in Ioway Creek in Ames.

If you like fish and want the ugly canyons to turn into normal-looking rivers you have two choices.

1. You can stop dumping concrete on the river banks and wait. The water will keep washing away dirt on the outside of the river bend. That makes the valley wider. Some day, the bank will cave in. That will make the valley less steep. Some houses and bridges might fall into the river too. That would be exciting!

2. You can use a backhoe to move the dirt around so the valley isn’t as steep and narrow. I like that idea better.  It would also be a good idea to have trees and grass near the river to hold the dirt together.

Photo by Dan Haug. The stream at the Tedesco Environmental Learning Corridor doesn’t look like a canyon anymore because the county brought in a backhoe to restore it.

If you like reading about science and engineering with very small words, I recommend a funny book called Thing Explainer by Randall Munroe.

If you want to learn the big words too, then I think you should listen to Jeff Kospaska at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Tom Isenhart at Iowa State University, or Billy Beck at ISU Extension.  I learned a lot from them!

Byway Coordinator Retiring

Sad to say, but this is the last blog I will write as the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Coordinator. It has been a fun-filled six years in this position. At times it doesn’t seem like that much time could have passed. But it has. As I reflect, we accomplished quite a bit.
Going back through quarterly and annual reports, I learned I gave over 65 presentations to cities, counties, and service groups. Some of these were in person and some virtual. I also manned booths at local celebrations and at the Iowa State Fair. At several community 125th or 150th year celebrations, we had an entry in the parade. These experiences allowed me to meet the people who live along the Byway and those interested in the Lincoln Highway. All are great people with a passion for their communities and I wish them well.

As with most non-profit programs, it takes a village to run a successful program. Thanks to the Prairie Rivers of Iowa (PRI) board members. They helped with events, manned booths, and supported the Byway efforts 100%. To Penny Brown-Huber, PRI Executive Director, I owe her everything. She took a chance on an older person who went back to grad school in her 50’s and gave me the job I know I was destined for. Still remember looking at the job posting and saying to myself, “I can do that. I can do that,” as I scrolled through the duties. Then I read through them again to see if there was anything I didn’t want to do. NOPE! I interviewed and was hired.

To the staff: I appreciate Dan Haug who helps the program by creating maps; Carman Rosburg who does the accounting work, keeps me in office supplies, and volunteers to help with events; and I appreciate those countless interns and now Joshua Benda, our Graphic Designer, as they have and continue to do the design work on interpretive panels and brochures- I owe you all a ton of gratitude. It is your unwavering dedication to your job and your professionalism that kept me motivated.

Mahanay Bell Tower in Jefferson by Mike Whye

The Iowa Byways program has seen some changes. Currently we are working with Travel Iowa with the Iowa Byways Passport Program. This program has allowed all 14 Iowa Byways to be more visible to the public and the program has really taken off. With summer approaching soon and vaccines available, I hope you all will get out and travel around Iowa. We have a beautiful and interesting state with much to see and do. I have new favorites from my travels along the Byway. Some of them are the Tremont and Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown, the view from the Elijah Buell Terrace by the Sawmill Museum in the Lyon’s District of Clinton, and the view from Mahanay Bell Tower in Jefferson is breathtaking. You can see for miles and miles from the observation deck. And who can leave out Harrison County Historical Village and Welcome Center near Missouri Valley. Kathy Dirks and staff are so welcoming and they have tons of Lincoln Highway info – and even a movie! I could go on and on.

Old Car at Youngville by Mike Kelly

I appreciate Henry Ostermann who knew the Lincoln Highway better than anyone from 1913-1920. He lost his life in an accident on his beloved highway. And to all those auto pioneers who helped develop roads and cars – if they could see us now with our climate control, GPS, parallel parking aides, satellite radio, video monitors, back-up cameras and large SUVs. That’s all stuff they probably didn’t even imagine could be possible.

I appreciate the folks in the Lincoln Highway Association that brought attention back to the road in 1992 when they re-formed the national association. To Bob, Joyce, Dean, Jeannie, Bob O., Cathy, Lyell, Rex, Mary Helen, Joe, Kathy, Barbara, Mike, Sandii, and Van – your expertise and knowledge of the Lincoln Highway was invaluable. And a special shout-out to Russell Rein, the current LHA Field Secretary, who lives in Michigan. He has answered every question I’ve asked him in a super timely manner. I am amazed at his knowledge.

As I prepare for my last day on April 16th, I am extremely proud that we have a both a Corridor Management Plan and an Interpretive Master Plan to follow that outlines the direction for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway. And I am over the moon that we can add “ – A National Scenic Byway” to our title. It is time to hand the baton off and let a new person take the lead.

I thank all of you for reading this and for your interest and support of the Lincoln Highway and the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway- A National Scenic Byway. I had to say it one more time!

Jan Gammon

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.

New Day for National Scenic Byway Designations!

The world of Byways changed on September 22, 2019 when “Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act of 2019” was signed into law. It passed out of the U.S House of Representatives on a vote of 404-19 earlier this year and then was passed unanimously in the Senate.  The President signed it on 9/22/19. The bill directs the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to restart the nomination process for National Scenic Byway status within 90 days of enactment, and to make a round of designations within one year.We are very grateful to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) for their leadership on the bill in the Senate and to Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) for their leadership in the House. See what other groups have to say about the passage of this bill and what it means for America at  https://www.scenic.org/blog/president-signs-national-scenic-byways-bill-into-law/Image result for image of congress

We, at the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway, are patiently waiting to see what the guidelines and nomination requirements are for this re-energized program. Only in Illinois is the Lincoln Highway a National Scenic Byway. The route in the states of Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, and half of Pennsylvania are state byways. The other states (New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California) have not designated their portion of the historic route as a byway. One must first be a state byway before becoming a national byway.

In Iowa, we have two National Scenic Byways- the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway and the Great River Road National Scenic Byway. The Loess Hills runs along the western edge of the state and the Great River Road is along the Mississippi River on the eastern edge of Iowa. The Lincoln Highway connects to both of them.

Now keep in mind that no funding was attached to this bill. This is only to take nominations and approve byways for this distinction. That does not mean that funding couldn’t happen in the future, but it was not part of this bill.

A Corridor Management Plan has been a requirement in the past. We completed ours in late 2016 and have been working hard to implement the projects identified in that process. Twenty interpretive panels in 8 communities have been created and we have plans for several more.  The route has also been promoted  in brochures, presentations, and at the Iowa State Fair. We have partnered with universities, government entities, other non-profits, and citizens to retain this historic road and its varied resources.

As we keep the momentum going, writing grants and planning projects, we desire to become a National Scenic Byway one day. We see the possibility on the horizon.