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One of the arguments of the Coralville Rain Forest proponents that is just a mite misleading is their occasional suggestion that those who oppose it -- or even just ask for specific plans and supporting data -- are somehow opposed to "thinking big," and having a "vision" for Iowa's future. Some of these "opponents" are simply emphasizing the virtues of focusing on Iowa's natural resources rather than the importation of those from thousands of miles away, artificially displayed under glass indoors. On Sunday, March 6, 2005, the Des Moines Register offtered two such alternatives: an editorial advocating the acquisition of 1247 acres of Loess Hills, and a feature on the economic and other advantages of a little more emphasis on "wild Iowa." They are reproduced below: "Iowans Should Grab Chance to Buy Land" and "In search of Wild Iowa."
[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Des Moines Register.]

 Iowans Should Grab Chance to Buy Land

Editorial Board

Des Moines Register

March 6, 2005

Ed Mincer was born just a few years before his father sold 200 acres for one of Iowa's first state parks, Waubonsie, which opened in 1926 near Hamburg in Iowa's Loess Hills.

It grew to 1,247 acres over time, mostly timbered, but with bluestem grasses, wild roses and yucca plants on open prairie, too. Now Iowans have a chance to buy 711 acres right next door, the site of a former Girl Scout camp, an opportunity that won't come along again.

It should be seized.

The reasons are compelling:

Iowa has little public land. It ranks 44th in land set aside for state and national parks and forests.

So much property is rarely available . The last big park acquisition was in the early 1990s, when 1,825 acres were added to Brushy Creek near Fort Dodge.

The site offers rugged natural beauty . WaShawtee, the former camp, is tucked into a valley. A small lake is nestled in the center. Ridge tops offer breathtaking views of the Missouri River floodplain. Trails cut through woodlands filled with oaks, hickories and maples. Papaws in the hollows bear a sweet fruit that looks like a banana. Deer, turkey, Great Plains skink and bobcats are among the wildlife. Chuck-will's-widows, tan pigeon-sized birds, fill the night with a call that sounds like their name.

A piece of the Loess Hills can be saved. The land form running north-south along Iowa's western border has no match in the Western Hemisphere. Formed from wind-blown silt ("loess") after the glaciers receded, the rolling hills rise abruptly from the plain. WaShawtee is in one of 12 areas the National Park Service identified as a priority for protection.

History is thick in the hills. Lewis and Clark hunted them. Native American burial mounds are scattered through Waubonsie.

Southwest Iowa's economy would get a boost. Waubonsie is about an hour from Omaha, a couple of hours from Kansas City. The park draws 70,000 visitors a year for camping, hiking and horseback riding, but visits drop off in summer months because there's not even a stream running through it. The camp would add the lake as well as an Olympic-size swimming pool, cabins and other facilities. The initial economic impact is projected at $1.8 million a year.

Edd Marshall, who bought the camp in 2002, wants to sell it to the state for around $2 million to expand Waubonsie: "My main hope is it should be used for the people. No one person should own WaShawtee, or a piece of ground like that."

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is willing to acquire the 711 acres on an interim basis, then sell it to the state later. It has asked the Legislature to consider $2.6 million for acquisition, planning and early management, said Mark Ackelson, foundation president. A private, nonprofit organization, Hole in the Hills, plans to use about 70 acres for a camp for children with life-threatening diseases. It has a sale contract to purchase WaShawtee for $2.6 million, but if the state buys the 711 acres, Hole in the Hills could lease the space it needs, said Rosemary Opbroek, the group's secretary-treasurer.

How could Iowa buy the 711 acres?

There are a number of possibilities, said state Senator Hubert Houser of Carson. "All in all, I've run into a good reception [in the Legislature]. I think there's going to be a genuine effort here to find some money, either in existing funds or elsewhere."

Mincer, who grows apples near Waubonsie, wants the park to expand. "It's a place where you can still imagine what it was like when the Indians were there. I hope they can see fit to add to it because, as time goes on, there are not going to be too many areas like this."

He's right. The state should figure out a way to own WaShawtee, a one-time investment that will pay back Iowans forever.

In Search of Wild Iowa

Mike Kilen

Des Moines Register

March 6, 2005

In the waning days of winter, an Iowan can journey outdoors to view endless miles of black fields and imagine their transformation to green corn and soybean plants.

If one is lucky, a haze of ammonia from farm fertilizer will accent the horizon, and a warm breeze will carry the fine bouquet of pungent hog waste.

Oh agribusiness! Oh life!

Whitman may not have written that, exactly, but Iowa leaders could borrow his words to plead with young adults to stay and contribute a verse.

They can wax poetic while gazing upon the ground - two-thirds of every inch of soil covered by corn and soybeans, the rest washed away to a growing list of polluted rivers.

They could romanticize the Iowa family farmer, that mythical character who pulls the teat of cow Bessie to provide milk for the table and then churns up the rich soil to feed the world.

This is bad poetry on many levels. Farming today is an industry as sure as factories are on the city's edge. And idealistic young people still have enough heart to shun the argument that all survival depends on one justifying standard - economic development.

They're joined by a small but growing contingent of Iowans who are trying to change the face of corn-and-beans Iowa. They know it will take some heavy convincing.

So I found myself at our prestigious land-grant university up the road, where part of the mission is helping farmers increase overproduction.

The symposium at Iowa State University was titled "Wildness, Wilderness & The Creative Imagination."

Iowa is known for its corn, hogs and writers, the latter through the state university to the east, but is not thought of as wild. It is vastly tamed, largely unimaginative.

I wondered what could be accomplished by such an academic exercise. Nearly 20 years ago, I was a student at another corn-belt university - Mankato State, in Minnesota - and was handed a piece by writer and naturalist Edward Hoagland.

He said there isn't much time left to write about Earth's creatures, and not just because their numbers are dwindling at alarming rates, "but because people are losing their capacity to fathom any form of nature except, in a more immediate sense, their own."

We prefer television, new jeans and mood enhancers.

How little has changed since I read this with the bored complacence of a 20-year-old, bracing against the wails of a naturalist.

So the panel started along on its earnest way. We need a balance between the domesticated and cultivated and the wild, one said. Wilderness, said another, is oversold; we should just look in our backyard for it.

It was all very polite until resident crank Mark Edwards spoke into the microphone. He's the Iowa Department of Natural Resources trails boss, but his hobby is cheering up folks with statistics on environmental disaster. He used the words "biological meltdown."

He's adept at grim Iowa statistics: 93 percent of our land is in agriculture, 5 percent in roads and most of the rest in cities. That leaves a grand total of about 100,000 acres, about the size of Des Moines, to explore as so-called wilderness, which usually involves state parks with roads and planted grass.

"I'm upset," Edwards said.

An audience member stood.

"We've given our souls for money," said Richard Parker, a retired teacher from rural Madrid. "Pretty soon we'll package it like a zoo, where you can go see these little pieces of the natural environment."

Iowans have heard this many times and reluctantly shrug because, after all, we feed the world. What are we gonna do, mow under the beans and eat native prairie grasses?

No doubt, we do our part in filling dinner plates, but it's an overreaching justification.

"Most countries get a large majority of their food from domestic sources," said Bruce Babcock, who was not at the symposium but is director of Iowa State's Center for Agricultural and Rural Development.

To change part of our countryside from this vast, damaging monoculture, this sea of nearly 28 million acres of corn and soybeans, would take a commitment by the government to stop subsidizing these crops, he said.

Fred Kircshenmann, director of the The Leopold Center at ISU, who sat on the mid-morning panel, said that this system of agriculture will not survive 25 more years. With the rise of fossil-fuel prices, soon farms will have to develop a new system and create a "farm as a natural environment."

That will mean fewer chemicals, more plant diversity and more small, organic farms.

This is not futuristic academic babbling. Many fledgling efforts are alive to accomplish it in Iowa, however small.

But large agribusiness companies and their lobbyists are not helpful and make logical arguments that Iowa's economy vitally needs the commodities, if not for new biotechnology and biofuels, then for people, also called consumers, who will always want cheap food.

What made this symposium a bit different was step one of the solutions. It called on Iowa's creative imagination.

The creation of economic policies as gospel must give way to creation of soulful works, to use the popular word of this era, "marketing" for change.

"We don't hear about wildness because we don't know it," said Sheryl St. Germain, a professor of English, the department that organized the symposium.

Why don't we?

"Environmentalists have not told good stories. The ability to reach the hearts and souls, as well as the heads of people, is missing," she said.

ISU is planning to offer a master's level creative-writing program in environmental writing, a worthy start.

Nourishing Iowans' hearts with wildness is the best we can do so far, other than traveling to other parts of America to experience it.

One man in northeast Iowa who has quietly taken on that calling for nearly 15 years is Robert Wolf, who wasn't at the ISU symposium and is relatively unknown.

After moving to Lansing from Chicago in 1991, he began gathering stories of rural Iowans, a sort of history of the Iowa soul. He figures the first step in healing a wounded environment is to tell stories.

In the 1990s, he put together a series of books compiling farmers' stories called "Voices From the Land," one of many anthologies from his Free River Press. In them he heard the pain of a system that doesn't work for them anymore.

"You need the written word to go first," he said.

In 1997, he produced a tabloid publication for northeast Iowa with the goal of tying many communities together in spirit to form a regional economy.

The regionalizing idea has expanded rapidly in Iowa in the last few years. It is part of the Iowa Department of Economic Development strategic plan, and grants are available to move the ideas forward.

But Wolf's utopian impulse goes further. He dreams of a regional economy with locally produced crops, lending institutions and tourism to re-create a lost community.

"Our only alternative in rural America is further impoverishment," he said.

Although measurable results were few after his northeast Iowa project, he isn't giving up. The next tabloid is due for publication in April. It ties together 10 counties along the Iowa River corridor, from Tama to the Amana Colonies, with history and essays on life there.

Some people of the corridor dream of river and bike trails and local arts and culture.

"We are envisioning a return to the local," said Jonathan Andelson, director of the Center for Prairie Studies at Grinnell College, who wrote for the publication. "Why should Iowa import 80 percent of its food?"

The Iowa Valley Resource Conservation & Development Corporation in Williamsburg is working on tying the region together and helping landowners with programs to put land in easements and move forward with water and bike trails. But it's a long way off.

Iowans can help on a statewide basis by supporting the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, which secures land to set aside for the return of wildness.

It's a slow, painful growing process that is first fertilized with words.

At the symposium, students and adults rose to the podium at midday to read "Wild Iowa" essays on their relationship with the few small spots of wildness in Iowa.

Their voices cracked with emotion.

In them was the spirit of Hoagland, who in the essay I had saved from 20 years before cried out for tales of the wild. At last, he seemed relevant to me.

"A writer's job is to pour out his heart," he wrote, "and whether his immediate concern is the death of whales and rhinos, or the death of civilization, there will be small chance for him not to."