PARIS — Paris, Iowa may not have an Eiffel Tower or world-famous pastries, but it does have a high-trestle bridge and a spot to eat a picnic lunch.
And Carla Knorowski was more than happy to find both on Tuesday, Aug. 30, during a visit to the small, unincorporated Linn County community, located about 35 miles north of Cedar Rapids.
Knorowski, who lives in Chicago and works as the chief executive officer for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, has been visiting cities and towns named Paris for the past seven years as part of an initiative she has dubbed the “Paris Project.” She’s visited places across the United States, Canada, Panama, Puerto Rico and, of course, France.
Paris, Iowa, is the 27th Paris she has visited.
The idea originally came to her after she took a trip in to Paris, France, with a friend during college.
“A friend invited me to go backpacking in Europe,” Knorowski said. “I actually didn’t really want to go there because I thought ‘everybody goes there. Let’s go to off-the-beaten-path places.’ When I went, I fell in love with it.”
Knorowski, a fan of author Ernest Hemingway, took her inspiration from Hemingway’s quote “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast.”
That theme struck a chord with Knorowski.
“That’s true of Paris, France, but that must also be true about all the Parises in the world because they’re home to somebody,” she said. “I decided I’d go find what the movable feast was for every Paris in the world.”
Paris, Iowa, which spans a few blocks along Sutton Road and County Highway D66 west of Central City, was the last Paris in the U.S. Knorowski plans to visit before taking her travels solely to other countries.
During each trip, Knorowski meets with the mayor of the city or a county supervisor in the area and donates $250 to the town she is visiting.
Linn County Supervisor John Harris said since many travelers may speed past the two blocks of Paris, Iowa, that abut the county highway without knowing where they’ve been, the $250 may be used to purchase signs to mark the edges of town.
Knorowski also donates an American flag and a peace pole that says “May peace prevail on the Earth” in four languages.
She said she commits an act of service during each visit, as well. In Paris, Arkansas, she bathed a thoroughbred at a horse hospice. At the world’s largest fish fry in Paris, Tennessee, she served baked beans to the hungry hordes. Cleaning out trout ponds was her act of service at fish hatcheries in Missouri. In Iowa, she was able to pick up litter along the gravel roads.
“I’m very committed to philanthropy,” Knorowski said. “I think it’s something I shouldn’t just do professionally, I should do in my personal life.”
She eventually plans to write a book filled with all the notes and pictures she has taken during her travels.
The next stop is Paris, France — Knorowski’s sixth trip there — to hopefully meet with the mayor and present souvenirs gathered from her travels.
So what is Knorowski taking away from her trip to Paris, Iowa?
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Besides posing for pictures on the Upper Paris Bridge, a high-trestle bridge built in 1879, Knorowski said highlights include a roost of gray and brown chickens running between two properties across Sutton Road. She also was able to pose next to the 35 mph sign that marks the western edge of town, next to a group of Palaminos grazing in a field bordered by black-eyed-Susans and other wildflowers.
“A lot of people think that unless it’s always flashy like Paris, France, what could possibly be interesting about these off-the-beaten-path places?” Knorowski said. “My view is every place has something special if you take the time to look.”