Embrace your river

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By Robin Fortney


Iowa’s rivers have been speaking to us for a long time. It’s time we listen.

Our rivers are telling us they have been degraded and disregarded over the decades, and need to be protected and celebrated.

Charles City, on the Cedar River in northeast Iowa, is a superb example of a community that has listened to its river and embraced it.

Iowa Rivers Revival, a group that advocates for rivers, has named Charles City “Iowa River Town of the Year” in recognition of the community’s outstanding work to enhance its connections to the Cedar.

Charles City citizens and officials responded to record floods in 1999 and 2008 by embracing the river with new ideas and bold projects, such as:

l Transformed (“mitigated”) a low-head dam into Iowa’s first white-water kayak course, now a magnet for visitors from all over the Midwest and beyond. This also improved fish habitat and passage, and increased the number of people fishing in the area.

l Developed new riverside parks. Riverfront Park, in the downtown area, includes a boat launch, walking trail, amphitheater, labyrinth, disc golf course, the white-water play area and other amenities that transformed the water front. The riverfront area is filled with people on weekends and evenings.

l Redesigned and replaced a beloved, century-old suspension bridge that was swept away by the flood of 2008.

l Completed Iowa’s largest permeable paving system, with much more coming. Permeable paving dramatically reduces stormwater runoff volume — and reduces pollutants. Charles City officials rightly note that the system “marks a new way of relating to the environment, restoring a more natural system of addressing stormwater.”

These are the kinds of programs — and vision of the future — that Iowa Rivers Revival recognizes with the award. Iowa Rivers Revival was founded six years ago to give a voice to rivers. IRR is committed to working on public policy in order to restore and protect some of our most precious natural resources — our rivers and streams.

Previous River Towns of the Year recognized by IRR are Webster City, Elkader, Coon Rapids and Cedar Falls.

The common thread is that all these towns hail their rivers as a valued asset to be protected, enhanced and celebrated.

Other common threads these River Towns demonstrate include:

l Embracing your river is good for local business and the economy. In Charles City, businesses have expanded inventories and services, including sales and rental of equipment, shuttle services and lodging packages.

l Embracing your river is good for tourism and visitors. In Charles City, response to tourism and community promotional efforts has “skyrocketed,” city officials say.

l Embracing your river is good for community involvement and pride. In Charles City, Eagle Scouts are doing projects for Riverfront Park. Middle School students are winning national contests for environmental projects. Scores of people are volunteering, with city officials leading the way.

Simply put, embracing your river is good for a community’s quality of life.

Iowa Rivers Revival strongly supports state funding for valuable public projects like Charles City’s. In Charles City, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ low-head dam public hazard program supported the dam mitigation and channel improvements. A DNR program supported the boat ramp and fishing area below the white-water course. The state Department of Cultural Affairs’ “Iowa Great Places” program supported the river walk area park and bank improvements.

The total state

contribution of about

$1.3 million is an excellent example of public money spent for public projects that will be used by the public.

Iowa Rivers Revival salutes Charles City as it continues to forge a great relationship and future with its Cedar River.

Robin Fortney, of Des Moines, is a founding board member for Iowa Rivers Revival and founder of Central Iowa Paddlers. Comments: rlehman@iowarivers.org

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