The Friends of Iowa County Conservation Foundation was created in 2001 to help the conservation board build a nature center at Lake Iowa Park.
Since then, the foundation board and faithful volunteers have been working hard to make our center a reality. Over the years, our building committee researched and drew up plans for our nature center, hired an architect to create a drawing and begin construction design.
In the meantime, our fundraising committee took on the daunting task of raising funds. They started by passing the hat– that first $100 was only the beginning. A myriad of raffles, banquets, auctions and breakfasts were conducted to raise money to support our efforts. In 2002, a feasibility study was completed and based on the positive response from the county participants, a capital campaign was attempted in 2003. The campaign was unsuccessful and our focus turned to the gravel road to Lake Iowa.
It arose in the feasibility study as a serious drawback to the project. After many meetings, reports and presentations to the Iowa County Board of Supervisors, a decision to seal coat the road to Lake Iowa was approved and completed in 2005. This winter, another attempt at getting a capital campaign off the ground was made but was unsuccessful.
Today, the foundation board and I are working on writing local and state grants to help us get the funding to support the project. Over the years, volunteers, community organizations, local businesses and individuals have donated an average of $9500 of goods, materials, facilities, services and labor per year since 2001.
They have earned and collected roughly $65,000 in donations over the last 5 years. Our breakfast benefit this last weekend added another $1300 in profits and another $1500 in donations in labor and food.
We will keep working toward our goal. Most projects like this begin with some kind of transformational gift, a financial incentive such as a large donation, real estate or contribution of some kind that really gets a project going. County-wide community leadership is also essential in producing the kind of funds necessary for a project of this size.
Sometimes, even when you have done all that you can, worked as hard as you can, the pieces of the puzzle just do not fall into place and patience is called for. In the meantime, we will continue to educate the public about our project, continue to raise local funds and work to find outside funding sources to support the funds already raised. We started from scratch and someday, probably when we least expect it, things will fall into place and we will be ready to build our nature center.
Why are we doing this? The EE program has been successful for many years. What is the purpose of all this effort and why is it necessary? These questions are at the heart of our vision for Iowa County’s EE program. Just like a bank building is vital to the operations of the bank, a nature center is an important tool used to enhance and expand the variety of services offered.
The ICCB’s environmental education program began in 1990. Our primary goal is to work with each K-6th grade class at least 3 times per school year, emphasizing outdoor activities. Our nature center would make that goal much more attainable.
Ask any elementary school age child in Iowa County and they will tell you what kinds of programs they participate in with the Naturalist and how disappointed they are when bad weather cancels a field trip. Often a nature center acts as a target, a place to go to, work out of, to get initial information before heading back outside.
We would expect our nature center to be a simple facility imbedded in Lake Iowa’s multiple and varied natural ecosystems. Field trips in the winter could become a reality and congested fall and spring field trips could be spread out during other parts of the year.
There is also great potential for elementary schools from other counties to visit our nature center, especially from communities like Brooklyn, Tri-County and Montezuma.
We work with junior and senior high school students when we can, however, that more than doubles the number of students one naturalist provides programs for. The solution is to include a field lab and equipment in the nature center’s lower level that junior high and high schools, local community colleges and University of Iowa college classes can use independently as a field station.
The building would include a first floor meeting room with a capacity of 50 people, a room for audio-visual programs, public meetings, as well as school, youth and civic organizations to use.
The lower level classroom will hold 150 people and be useful for larger groups such as small professional conferences, large school groups and overnight workshops. Both floors would include kitchen facilities necessary for programming involving crafts, cooking, or simply offering a snack and coffee after a program.
Access to water or the ability to clean up hands-on activities is often required for many of our educational programs. These meeting/classrooms would be a place to offer indoor programs such as O.W.L.S. (older wiser livelier seniors) or a pond workshop for landowners. We could hold teacher workshops where we can work inside and outside without worrying about travel time to the outdoors.
The nature center would be a place for campers and other park users to find shelter in case of severe weather. It would safely and efficiently house our office space, much needed modern computer and AV equipment, records and education materials.
The main floor would house permanent and temporary displays about oak-savanna ecosystems, including local flora and fauna and pioneer history. It would also provide space for display information from local, state, and national conservation organizations.
Teaching spaces such as butterfly and woodland wildflower gardens, oak savanna restoration projects or other backyard habitat displays would fill the center’s outdoor areas. Our wetland septic system would include interpretative signage, a children’s animal homes trail will be developed along one trail and an ADA accessible trail is planned to connect the amphitheater to the building.
The amphitheater will be created from the earthwork necessary for the geothermal system we hope to include as well as interpret. Energy efficient design is not only going to help us maintain and support the facility over a long period of time but also can act as an example for people to learn from, perhaps incorporating it into their own building plans.
The students in our area would greatly benefit from this facility but there is also great potential for educational and outdoor programming for the general public. A nature center at Lake Iowa would certainly attract out-of-county participants throughout the year.
It is very common for adult and family audiences from surrounding counties to attend public programs offered in Iowa County. 50% of our public audiences are from out-of-county. Recently we had someone attend an adult program from Omaha.
We also know that 50% of our campers come from out-of-county and therefore contribute to the tourism and economic development of the county. It is not unlikely then, to believe that the nature center would provide some economic stimulus to Iowa County as well.
One of our goals is to complete the project with as much community involvement as we can. We believe that a facility such as this will be used and cared for if the local residents have some ownership in its creation.
Our estimated budget for the project- Phase 1- nature center building- $560,000 - 5000 square foot, two story facility; Phase 2 – Trails- $36,000 – ADA trail, animal homes trail; Phase 3- Oak Savanna/Habitat Restoration- $10,000.
We have secured some funding from local fundraisers, from Iowa County and the Iowa County Conservation Board but we have a long ways to go to meet our needs. Sometimes local business and community leaders are all it takes to move a project like this forward.
Most times it takes a whole community, an Iowa County-wide community to see a project like this through. If you are interested in helping with this project or would like more information, contact us at (319) 655-8466 or send us an Email.