Preserving a river’s legacy

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: March 15 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:38 am in

By Jerry Peckumn

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Decorah and the Upper Iowa River valley are regarded by many as Iowa’s most scenic interior river area, but that’s not why Iowa Rivers Revival selected Decorah as its River Town of the Year.

Decorah and the Upper Iowa River are the most popular and most visited interior river area in Iowa, but that’s not why Decorah was selected.

A couple of words begin to capture why: “legacy” and “passion.”

The people of Decorah and the Upper Iowa are deeply aware of the legacy they have inherited with this beautiful valley, and they are passionate about enjoying it, sharing it, improving it, protecting it and passing it on for generations to come.

People of the valley know that preserving the legacy is good for the economy — and indispensable for quality of life. The river is the center of life in Decorah.

Ongoing projects and plans for the future promise to ensure Decorah’s special relationship to the Upper Iowa for decades to come. Projects include creating beautiful, 11-mile-long Trout Run Trail, maintaining an impressive park system and hiking and mountain bike trails, featuring the “Elvelopet” river run and “Kanalopet” river race at Nordic Fest, and doing river cleanups.

Looking to the future, a process is underway engaging a wide spectrum of stakeholders in mapping plans for the river corridor and protecting its heritage. The corridor has Iowa’s strongest “Keep it Clean, Keep it Fun” campaign, to ensure that river users have a culture of respect for the river and property along the river.

Projects almost always have one eye on protecting the environment as well as enhancing enjoyment. City park lands provide green buffers and native grasses to protect water quality and protect bluffs from erosion. The Upper Iowa River Watershed Project has resulted in decreased nitrogen and phosphorous in the river, and increased clarity. The city and its partners monitor water quality at 29 sites, and children learn about water quality issues at school.

The City of Decorah is at the hub of these and many other efforts, but collaboration has been crucial.

There is impressive cooperation and partnership among city, county, state and federal agencies. Other public agencies, businesses, organizations, volunteers and citizens pitch in. Land owners, livery operators and river users are working together to envision a future that works for all.

Luther College is a leader in sustainability and includes the river in its extensive environmental studies program.

And, speaking of the future, Decorah school children are involved in river education in elementary, middle- and high school. They visit the hatchery, learn how to test water quality, learn about aquatic life, write about streams, do art about the river, and study macro-invertebrates, insects and aquatic ecosystems.

The people of Decorah and the “Oneota Valley” are fully engaged. They are passionate indeed about preserving the precious legacy of their river, and passing it on for generations to come. They richly deserve the River Town of the Year award.

Jerry Peckumn, a Jefferson area farmer, is chair of Iowa Rivers Revival, a statewide river education and advocacy organization, www.iowarivers.org. Comments: http://www.oddnumbered.com/iowarivers/contact/

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