Northeast Iowa RC&D Newsletter: May 2020


Letter from the Director

Greetings all!

I hope this update finds you safe and well. What crazy times! While we haven’t been able to meet in person for some time, the Northeast Iowa RC&D train keeps rolling down the tracks! We are keeping extremely busy moving our projects forward and helping our partners discover and implement new ways to deal with the current COVID-19 situation. Our RC&D staff has been working almost entirely remotely for nearly 8 weeks now and I’ve been blown away with their flexibility, hard work, and ingenuity in finding ways to tackle the challenges presented by isolation. We’ve established some new communication strategies and technologies that are not only helping team members communicate and cope with the current separation, but that will also enable us to be even more efficient as we return to our “new normal”. I know the staff is excited to share their project progress with you, but first I’ll mention a few more quick updates.

The permeable pavers in the parking spaces in front of the RC&D and our driveway have been installed and they look great! What a difference from before and a great centerpiece to our stormwater demonstration site. Side note: This was the first spring in the 15 years I’ve been at the RC&D that we didn’t have snowmelt seeping/running into the office from the back entry. The site work is already paying dividends and the pavers will only enhance the ability to store stormwater run-off and melt. If you’re in the Postville area, swing by and take a look.

The long-awaited installation of the permeable pavers at the RC&D have made an incredible difference enhancing the profile of our organization and the City of Postville, and will provide another great example of stormwater conservation for students and community members visiting our site.

The RC&D was approached by the Decorah Chamber of Commerce and a local business to ask if we would administer a donor sponsored small business assistance fund where profits from the sponsor business would be distributed to other businesses in need. To date, we have distributed $500 stipends to 30 businesses totaling $15,000!

Construction and design progress on flood reduction structures is continuing on both the Upper Iowa and Upper Wapsipinicon River National Disaster Resilience projects. Ross and I are also working on a proposal to the American Flood Center and working with Fayette County on a FEMA/Emergency Management application for flood reduction structure cost-share.

Northeast Iowa RC&D also wrote and secured a $3 million Regional Conservation Partnership Program grant for the Iowa Department of Ag and Land Stewardship that will provide increased soil health practice incentive payments and technical assistance to producers in the Turkey River Watershed!

That is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more happening at RC&D and I encourage you to read on to get a glimpse of what we’ve been up to. Thank you as always for your support and I look forward to the day we can meet again in person!

From all of us at the RC&D, stay well!

Paul Berland, Executive Director

The Highlights

A few of the most exciting things that have happened at the RC&D in the last few months.

Project Updates

Northeast Iowa Tourism Association (NEITA)

RC&D Staff Leaders: Amanda Streeper (administrator), Mallory Hanson (Fayette County representative)

This was the first year the Northeast Iowa Tourism Association (NEITA) participated in the Iowa Legislative Showcase as a regional organization The event was well-attended by Iowa legislators and was a great platform for NEITA to not only talk about the importance of tourism but also showcase the abundance of opportunity in Northeast Iowa.

NEITA was also honored at the Iowa Tourism Conference when they were awarded the Outstanding New Event award for their 2019 Northeast Iowa Farm Crawl through a nomination Mallory submitted.

The group is currently working on collaborative regional marketing of the 2020 Fall Farm Crawl and developing a tearsheet as a self-guided tour of Northeast Iowa’s meat lockers – one of Northeast Iowa’s unique retail experiences. As the group administrator, the RC&D continues to help gather information for these marketing initiatives, work with the graphic designer, and provide financial and meeting coordination services. (Meetings held February 19, March 18, April 15)

Iowa Group Travel Association (IGTA)

RC&D Staff Leaders: Amanda Streeper, Austin Feuerhelm

RC&D staff members Amanda Streeper and Austin have been busy coordinating the 2020 IGTA Membership campaign and have been successful in recruiting several new members for the organization. In addition, they developed newsletters for both the members and group travel planner, as well as maintained a social media presence for the group. Amanda and Austin worked together to develop the 2019 Annual Report which was distributed to IGTA Membership. Amanda represented IGTA at the Iowa Legislative Showcase. Austin designed and wrote a new group travel itinerary highlighting activities along the Great River Road that will be shared with group travel purchasers.

With the major impacts of COVID19 on the tourism industry, Amanda and Austin have been working with the Board of Directors to implement ways to keep Iowa in the forefront of group planners’ minds as they think about booking future trips. The group is also working to promote sites that have alternate travel experiences like virtual tours and/or video. A 2020 Iowa Travel Guide will be created as planned and will be included in the June issue from Leisure Group Travel.

Community Facilities Technical Assistance and Training Program

RC&D Staff Leader: Paul Berland
Project Associate: Austin Feuerhelm

In this quarter, staff at RC&D met with city leaders and elected officials at a city council meeting in Fort Atkinson to outline the overall goal of increasing the community’s involvement in Community Facility Programs as well as organize a Community Stakeholder Steering Committee (CSSC). A tour with the Fort Atkinson City Superintendent highlighted specific problem areas, current equipment, and an in-depth look at the community’s facilities. This gave our staff a greater perspective on the status of the community and helped in the creation of a comprehensive condition report. The information gathered will aid in the development of a Community-wide Facilities Development Plan showcasing potential priority projects.

RC&D staff worked with the Riceville CSSC to apply for the Howard County Community Foundation Grant to update Fire Department equipment including a search & rescue watercraft and inflatable raft for ice rescue. Currently, we are waiting to hear if the community was awarded the requested funds. RC&D staff is also working to submit the USDA Community Facility grant pre-application to further help with the cost of the equipment. Clermont GIS mapping and condition reports were completed and used to help identify potential priority projects in the community. The Clermont CSSC expressed interest in a grant for a new pumper truck for the fire department so RC&D staff met with the Fire Chief to discuss specific needs and explained potential funding sources. Ultimately, the community decided to pursue funding through the USDA Community Facilities and Direct Loan Program. We worked to gather the necessary information for the pre-application and plan to submit for approval.

Iowa Byways

RC&D Staff Leader: Jared Nielsen

It’s a great time to drive Iowa’s Byways! Since Mallory Hanson began working as the Director for Fayette County Economic Development & Tourism, Jared has been coordinating projects and meetings for the Driftless Area (DASB), River Bluffs (RBSB), Delaware Crossing (DCSB) & Grant Wood (GWSB) Scenic Byways. And… each byway board continues to be busy.

With news from the DOT that the Iowa Byways Sustainability Project has been extended through March of 2021, key byway-related projects that are in progress include: 1) Decorah Parks & Rec Trail Wayfinding & Interpretive Plan (DASB), 2) Maquoketa River Paddler’s Guide (GWSB/DCSB), 3) Osborne Welcome & Visitor Center byway-themed interpretive panels depicting one-room school houses (RBSB), 4) a byway-themed interpretive panel about purple martin bird houses for Marquette (RBSB), & 5) Design a rendering of a visitor center for the Stone City Foundation.

Decorah Parks & Rec: Wayfinding and Interpretative Plan

RC&D Staff Leader: Jared Nielsen
Project Associates: Josh Dansdill, Brad Crawford

In the fall of 2019, Northeast Iowa RC&D, in partnership with Decorah Parks & Recreation, was awarded funding from the Wellmark Foundation to help improve the safety, usability, and health benefits of the Decorah Park System through the development of cohesive wayfinding & interpretation. Since then, the RC&D has nearly completed Phase 1 of the 3 phase project, including re-branding, the creation of a 93-page trail wayfinding plan, the design of over 1,000 trail decal stickers, and selection of specific locations for 180+ trail posts. The trail wayfinding plan also includes 9 designated trail loops for visitors and new trail users to follow.
Phase 2 of the project will include park interpretation scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2020. Phase 3 includes a trail guide publication scheduled to be completed in the fall/winter of 2020.

Urban Stormwater Conservation Education Project

RC&D Staff Leader: Tori Nimrod

School closures created a challenge with our Urban Stormwater Education Project. Up to this point, there has been wonderful interest and participation from Northeast Iowa educators in the Watershed Guardian program, the Urban Stormwater Educational Program developed through this grant. Multiple student groups had scheduled a class visit this spring and summer. RC&D Staff members are working closely with the funders to develop a new timeline to ensure that we can work with those groups to reschedule visits as well as engage more students in the upcoming school year.

As part of this project, the RC&D provides subgrants to area educational groups so they may install a stormwater conservation practice of their own. Seven student-led urban stormwater practices have been awarded (not installed) thus far to groups across the region. The awarded projects include rain gardens, native plantings, wetland plantings, rain barrels, tree planting, and stream bank restoration. Teachers have expressed their excitement about the program and many, who have already been to the site, are hoping to take a new group of students through the program next school year.

The permeable paver driveway and parking area are the final practice to be implemented at the Regional Urban Stormwater Demonstration Site at the RC&D office. The implementation of permeable pavers will allow us demonstration of the area’s permeability as well as the site’s additional water holding capacity and filtration.

Farmers Market Promotion Project

RC&D Staff Leader: Josh Dansdill
Project Associates: Mallory Hanson, Amanda Streeper

Farmers Market Manager Toolkit Completion

Although the Farmers Market Manager Toolkit Project, a set of resources specific to Iowa to help assist market managers with decision-making and market management, is wrapped up in terms of the development of the publication and handouts, Josh and partners at Iowa Valley RC&D are now working to distribute the resources and share information with farmers markets stakeholders. In January, Josh and members from Iowa Valley RC&D unveiled the Toolkit to over 100 market managers at the Iowa Farmers Market Association Conference in Des Moines. The Toolkit was received with overwhelming excitement and gratitude. Over 80 copies of the publications and handouts were distributed. Both organizations have already had to make another order of handbooks! They are now available for order on the Northeast Iowa RC&D website. Additionally, the funder from USDA invited Josh to present the Toolkit to a group of farmers market managers and supporters from across the country! He has also been asked to be a consultant for a group from Nebraska in the development of a Farmers Market Toolkit for their state.

Social Media Coaching Program (Boost)

Josh is concentrating on Year 2 of the Boost Social Media Coaching Program, which assists farmers market managers and vendors with lessons and strategies to master social media marketing. The program, another partnership between Northeast Iowa RC&D and Iowa Valley RC&D, is offered statewide and provides a free, seven-month, one-on-one program. As our hand has been forced to work more digitally, this project couldn’t come at a better time for many vendors/managers across the state who still need a way to sell and market their produce. Josh has begun to meet with the Year 2 participants and tailors their information to fit both their experience level and their needs in dealing with a new farmers market retail landscape.

Multi-Cropping Iowa

RC&D Staff Leader: Ross Evelsizer

Multi-Cropping Iowa is a 3-year research project measuring the environmental and economic implications of multi-cropping methods such as relay, double, or poly-cropping. Multi-cropping is a method of regenerative agriculture that involves harvesting more than one crop from a field in the same year. This project, now in its second year, tracks data such as input costs and yield from producers who are willing to try this innovative practice.

Over the past few months, Ross has been collecting data from the producers who participated in the multi-cropping trials from 2019 to track the economic returns of multi-cropping versus more conventional cash cropping methods. The initial results of the analysis show that relay cropping with a small grain and soybeans can outperform mono-crop field by three to five times more net profit per acre. Trials with corn did not experience the same level of success but still yielded a profit. Information from the economic analysis will be shared through various methods to maximize outreach to producers. Additional producers have volunteered to conduct trials for the 2020 growing season, and two additional grant opportunities are pending for 2020 to extend the impact of the project.

Over the summer, Luther College professors and students will once again assist with soil sampling to capture the effects on the soil and the Iowa Soybean Association will help track agronomic data of the trials. Ross will also deployed a plot camera on a farm near Washington, Iowa to record photos of a relay trial field for a full year.

Quasqueton Resiliency Planning

RC&D Staff Leaders: Ross Evelsizer, Tori Nimrod

RC&D staff met with community leaders of Quasqueton to discuss the history of flooding in the community, strategies to gather information from residents, and began to develop strategies to mitigate flooding in the future.

Ross and Tori developed and distributed a survey to residents in flood prone areas of Quasky to gather personal stories and experiences about flooding and how it impacted their lives. The survey results highlighted a misunderstanding between the city and residents about what has historically been done to protect residents from flooding. Residents in flood prone areas are continuously affected by flooding and have spent thousands of dollars repairing and improving their homes to mitigate future flood events.

Even with these improvements, residents are still affected by the recurring cost associated with flooding such as cleaning up debris, and cleaning the inside of their homes. Residents that participated in the survey expressed their frustration in the amount of dollars they have to spend annually on flood cleanup and repairs. RC&D staff will continue working with community leaders to develop strategies to help residents and the community be more resilient to flooding.

Radon and Lead Awareness in Postville

RC&D Staff Leader: Nathan Thompson

We have continued to work with community leaders to promote awareness and best practices for lead and radon. Postville has a large population of young children as well as older housing stock. This means that not only does housing often lack radon mitigation, it is also more likely to contain lead-based paint. We have distributed 40 lead tests and educational materials, including material translated into Hebrew, to the Jewish elementary school, Bais Sholom. Postville childcare families also received tests and educational material.

Response to radon testing and mitigation has continued to be robust. The Iowa Cancer Consortium grant that RC&D secured in fall 2019 has allowed 10 households to install radon mitigation systems in their homes, and over 250 Postville households have been tested for radon.

We will continue to work with the schools and community resource providers to ensure that all households in Postville are safe from radon and lead hazards. This project will continue through Fall 2020.

Upper Wapsipinicon Watershed Coordination

RC&D Staff Leaders: Ross Evelsizer, Tori Nimrod

Since Northeast Iowa RC&D took over coordination of the Upper Wapsipinicon implementation project in October 2019, 13 additional projects have been developed for flood mitigation at an estimated cost of $1,166,600. The first bid packet was let for bid in December for two ponds and one wetland project to be constructed this spring. The contract was awarded to Dan Oberbreckling Concrete and Excavation with a bid of $99,680.30. An additional 9 projects will be let for bid in the next few months for construction in summer 2020.

As part of the project, RC&D staff are working closely with the Buchanan County Engineer’s office to identify potential locations to implement on-road detention structures throughout the targeted subwatersheds. The IWA project provides 100% cost-share for these projects to the county, which work to use the road as the dam structure and temporarily detain water during large rain events, thereby reducing the impact of flash flooding and protecting downstream infrastructure. Structures like these have been successfully implemented in Fayette and Winneshiek Counties through similar IWA projects.

Upper Iowa and Upper Wapsipinicon River NDR Projects

RC&D Staff Leader: Paul Berland

These are exciting times for both the Upper Iowa and Upper Wapsipinicon River National Disaster Resilience Projects. The project coordinators have built momentum with landowners and the engineers have been working on getting project designs ready in anticipation of more than $5 million in combined projects to be implemented in the next 18 months to reduce future flooding!

Paul has been busy with ushering these projects through the environmental review, bid letting, construction administration and claims processes.

Thoughts from the Crew

Amanda Streeper
Associate Director

Regardless of the circumstances, I am always so proud to be part of this team. Without hesitation, everyone has jumped into a remote work world and flourished. We have adapted with new digital platforms that allow us to connect with each other while separated and keep projects and community support moving as much as possible. Everyone – the Board, the funders, and partners – has been incredibly understanding and flexible. Many, many thanks!

As we come up on the beginning of Summer, we look forward to developing several project applications with partners covering a myriad of topics from conservation to farmers markets to the development of art to historic preservation to community support.

Brad Crawford
Program Associate

I’ve spent the spring tracking down technological solutions to a host of needs that have been brought to my attention— from the immediate COVID-19-related needs of community members through a newly formed Mutual Aid Network to finding innovative ways the RC&D and its partners can adapt to a physically distant world. I continue to balance the demands of the digital world of website building, video production, Zoom meetings, and software sleuthing with paddling trips on the Upper Iowa river, prescribed burning, tree planting, and projects around the farm.

Josh Dansdill
Grants Specialist & Small Business Planner

I’ve been closely monitoring the situation around COVID-19 in relation to farmers markets operating in Iowa. I’ve been proud to be part of a statewide team that has been able to guide farmers markets through these unprecedented times. In addition to markets, I’ve been privileged to work on a Small Business Helpline through Winneshiek County Economic Development being able to direct folks to these financial resources in their time of need. As well as providing a valuable opportunity for small business owners to speak with an actual person, vent their frustration, tell their story, and overall feel like their voice is being heard. We are all overwhelmed by the situation COVID-19 is causing locally, nationally, and worldwide but being allowed to tell their story for just a few minutes can actually make a huge difference. 

Jared Nielsen
Senior Marketing & Design Specialist

Thank you for the opportunity to attend the Iowa Tourism Conference in March. It was a great trip. We met inspiring people and learned A LOT about Iowa and the tourism industry! Through the opportunity to have extended conversations with partners we developed exciting project ideas and bonded in our efforts to promote Northeast Iowa and Iowa’s Scenic Byways!

As we move into another year of Byways work, the spring has of course, shaped up to be a tourism challenge. However, Iowa’s Scenic Byways are still an opportunity for Iowans to get out while still being safe. I am glad to be able to continue my interpretive projects alongside my byways boards, but also to use the byways as a way to encourage people to take a break along one of these scenic routes.

Mallory Hanson
Regional Tourism & Economic Development Coordinator

I began working as the Director for Fayette County Economic Development and Tourism on July 1, 2019. Since that time, I have developed short and long-term goals, submitted articles of incorporation and drafted bylaws for a 501c6 organization, met with city councils, bank executives, and utility representatives that serve Fayette County, promoted local events and programs, and assisted small business owners with financial and marketing plans and implementation. Whew!

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, I developed a website with business resources and a Facebook group for local community members to offer support. Although the current pandemic has been a new challenge, I have enjoyed working on behalf of Fayette County over the past 10 months. I truly love my home and am so lucky to be able to work in this position with the support of our RC&D staff!

Ross Evelsizer
Watershed Planner & GIS Specialist

I love being part of the watershed team at RC&D and the work that we’ve been doing is getting attention from partners all over the state. The Iowa Flood Center invited us and other watershed partners to speak to a group from Texas about how we are working together to mitigate flooding. They were amazed at how we all share resources and work together! We were also invited to join the Iowa Flood Center, DNR, and Nature Conservancy on a trip to North Carolina to share our experience and learn about what they are doing to mitigate flooding in their state. Unfortunately the trip was postponed but we may have the opportunity to go when things return to normal! All of these things are great recognition for the RC&D watershed team!

Nathan Thompson
Community Planner

It’s been a pleasure to work with Postville community members on the planning project over the last few years, and there has been real value in the discussions about the future of the town and how to move forward. I’m excited to help local leaders try a new Farmer’s Market, a new mural, and possibly a new pocket park, all ideas that started with this planning process. With help from the Iowa Cancer Consortium, I’ve also been helping Postville residents test their homes and remediate hazards from radon and lead, and we continue to get a great response from the community.

Another interesting project is working with Fayette County to update the county comprehensive plan and zoning rules and regulations, which will be completed by summer 2020. and is pursuing funding for projects in West Union and regional projects.

There are so many great things happening in rural areas, and it’s exciting to work at RC&D collaborating with local and regional partners to help shape our region’s future.

Tori Nimrod
Environmental Education Coordinator & GIS Analyst

We have had the great opportunity to work with landowners in the Wapsipinicon River Watershed, teachers and youth in Northeast Iowa, and the residents of Quasqueton who are all motivated to improve their watershed, and reduce flooding in downstream communities. We have been fortunate to meet so many great rural and urban watershed organizations and partners working together to achieve a common goal.

I especially appreciate the City of Quasqueton, which has been a great partner in working with us to develop their Flood Resilience Action Plan. I truly am excited to work with the residents of Quasqueton and the City jointly to develop actions that will mitigate their risk to flooding in the future.

Austin Feuerhelm
Community Outreach Specialist

I’ve continued to work on the Community Facilities and Technical Assistance and Training Grant and am helping to secure funding for the fire departments in the communities of Riceville and Clermont. Additionally, I am assisting Amanda with IGTA administrative duties including marketing and membership. In early March we had the opportunity to attend the Iowa Tourism Conference and it helped me gain further insight on video marketing strategies.
This new-found knowledge in videography will help me with the creation of an upcoming visual arts project that will showcase and advertise Iowa Byways to new travelers. I love to create and tell stories through visual media and really appreciate that I am able to pursue these interests at RC&D!