People & Places

Most Iowans boo rain forest plan
Register Staff Writer

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If you build it, they will come, even if most Iowans think it's a waste of money.
No, we're not talking about that famous northeastern Iowa ball diamond, carved from cornfields, but rather a rain forest to be established within a 20-story-high, 4.5-acre enclosure off Interstate Highway 80 in Johnson County.

The Des Moines Register's latest poll shows 36 percent of Iowans judge the $180 million project in Coralville to be a good idea and something the state can take pride in.

They are outnumbered in the Iowa Poll by the 56 percent of adults who say it's a waste of money, which includes a $50 million contribution approved by Congress last month. The rest are unsure.
"It just seems to me our schools are hurting and we need money so many other places that it's kind of over the top right now. It's maybe a terrific idea for the future," said poll participant Marilyn Konicek of Belle Plaine, who is retired.

But no matter how Iowans feel about the Iowa Environment/Education Project, as it's called, the poll shows a 56 percent majority of them want to see the indoor rain forest after it's created.

"It would be interesting to see something like that. I'm kind of a plant nut," said Konicek, 66.

Forty-one percent intend to stay away from the eastern Iowa attraction, and 3 percent aren't sure whether they want to go.

The poll, taken Feb. 7-11, has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Supporters of the project say it will be unlike anything else in the nation, giving Iowa a signature attraction like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

The caterpillar-shaped rain forest enclosure will contain animals as well as plants. There will also be a million-gallon aquarium, re-created wetland and prairie.

Coralville plans to build a $60 million hotel and convention center on adjacent land.

Critics have branded the rain forest a pork-barrel project that Iowa members of Congress were able to insert into a $370 billion spending bill.

The poll shows young adults are more appreciative of the project than older Iowans.

Among those between the ages of 18 and 34, a 55 percent majority thinks creating the indoor rain forest is a good idea.

"It's going to generate a lot of tourism revenue. . . . I think it would be a very, very large attraction to the state. It's something new and definitely different for the Midwest," said Keith Koehn, 29, of Waterloo.

"I think it's a key for education. It's another means for educating children about the world, preserving the rain forest and so forth," said Koehn, a certified arborist who works in sporting goods sales.

At the other end of the poll's age spectrum, 20 percent of those 65 or older say the project is a good idea.

There's also a generation gap when it comes to plans for visiting the educational facility after it's built. Three-fourths of young adults, ages 18 to 34, say they want to go see it, while just 39 percent of seniors, ages 65 or older, feel that way.

"I have absolutely no doubts whatsoever that I would go see it on a regular basis," said Koehn, the arborist. "It's just pure nature."

In the southeastern Iowa congressional district that includes Johnson County, 64 percent of adults want to pay a visit to the planned attraction, even though 55 percent of those in the 2nd District consider it a waste of money.


Senators' approval ratings

Job approval ratings are little changed from September for U.S. Senators Charles Grassley and Tom Harkin, who helped with passage of the federal spending bill, including money for Iowa's rain forest project.

GRASSLEY: In The Des Moines Register's latest poll, taken earlier this month, 69 percent of Iowans say they approve of Grassley's job performance. That's virtually the same as in a September Iowa Poll, when 70 percent of the state's adults said they approved. Grassley, a Republican, is up for re-election this year.

HARKIN: His job-approval level is unchanged at 62 percent. A Democrat, Harkin won a fourth term in 2002.

About the poll

The Iowa Poll, conducted for The Des Moines Register by Selzer & Co. Inc. of Des Moines, is based on interviews with 800 Iowans age 18 or older. Interviewers contacted households with randomly selected telephone numbers. Percentages based on the full sample may have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Republishing the copyright Iowa Poll without credit to The Des Moines Register is prohibited. The poll, conducted Feb. 7-11, asked the following:

I'm going to mention some elected officials, both individuals and groups. For each, please tell me if you approve or disapprove of the job they are doing. Charles Grassley, as U.S. senator. Tom Harkin, as U.S. senator.

The U.S. Congress recently passed a bill that grants a substantial amount of money to build an indoor rain forest as an educational and tourist attraction in Coralville, just outside Iowa City. Do you think building the rain forest is a good idea for Iowa and something the state can take pride in, or just a waste of money?

Regardless of whether or not you think it's a good idea to build the rain forest, would you want to go see it when it's built, or not?

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