Blue Zones small-town demonstration sites; large-city finalists named in Iowa

Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Marion are still in the running

  • Photo

With a new 11-mile recreational trail, bluffs for hiking, the Upper Iowa River and other outdoor amenities, Decorah already has been cited as a fitting example for fitness, but a new designation will allow the northeast Iowa town to further ramp up its efforts.

Decorah was named Tuesday, Oct. 9, as a Blue Zones demonstration site, one of nine smaller Iowa communities awarded that status.

The northeast Iowa town will receive expert advice on how to implement policy changes and take other steps to help its 8,100 residents live healthier lives.

Nikki Brevig, executive director of the Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce, said the town won’t have a dedicated staff person located on-site, as the larger Blue Zones cities will, but will share staff with the other small communities.

“They will come to us when we need them,” Brevig said.

Other communities named as demonstration sites Tuesday, with populations under 10,000, were: Algona, Osage, Audubon, Red Oak, Spirit Lake, Fairfield, Woodbine and Harlan.

Also Tuesday, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Marion were named as Blue Zones finalists among 12 larger cities in Iowa.

Others named as finalists were Altoona, Burlington, Dubuque, Muscatine, Clinton, Ottumwa, Davenport, Oskaloosa and Sioux City.

It’s the second time around for Cedar Rapids, which was passed over in the first selection round in May.

Stephanie Neff, deputy director of Linn County Public Health, said the city will have a scaled-back site visit before the final six demonstration sites are announced in January. Throngs of supporters attended a March site visit in the New Bohemia district.

Blue Zones is based on principles in author Dan Buettner's book of the same name, referring to places around the world where people live longer, healthier lives.

Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Mason City and Spencer were announced in May as Iowa's first Blue Zones demonstration sites.

Iowa City is preparing for its Nov. 13 site visit, said Nancy Quellhorst, president & CEO of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce.

Details will be available later this week on how residents can participate, she said.

Already, schools and businesses are on board with making changes.

Quellhorst cited ACT’s new certified wellness worksite, where the company added treadmill work stations and mapped trails on its campus among those health-oriented efforts.

“One of the easiest ways to reach the population at-large is through employers,” she said. “It’s all about making the healthy choice the easy choice.”

Marion supporters are asked to line 10th Street and Tower Terrace Road on the morning of its Nov. 14 site visit, said Jill Ackerman, president of the Marion Chamber of Commerce.

Ackerman said the presentation will take place at the new ESCO Group location at 3450 Third St.

Dubuque also will receive a site visit, along with Altoona, Burlington and Oskaloosa. Representatives from Wellmark, Healthways and Blue Zones will critique the finalist cities’ efforts and readiness to become a demonstration site.

The Blue Zones Project is a cornerstone of Iowa's Healthiest State initiative, with a goal of transforming environments in which Iowans live, work and play to improve their emotional, physical and social health.


For more information on the Blue Zones Project, visit

Like what you're reading?

We make it easy to stay connected:

to our email newsletters
Download our free apps

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.
Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.