Artwork to be installed along Eastern Iowa's scenic byways

15 communities participating in effort inspired by interpretive panel project

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ELGIN — Travelers on Iowa’s scenic byways within a year can enjoy public works of art along with nature’s handiwork.

“Each of the 15 communities selected for the program has a local committee developing a theme that encompasses each community’s sense of place,” said program coordinator Mallory Marlatt, a project coordinator with Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation & Development.

Since most of the state’s scenic byways are in Eastern Iowa, so are the participating communities, including Amana, Anamosa, Belle Plaine, Bellevue, Delhi, Elkader, Guthrie Center, Guttenberg, Keosauqua, Manchester, Maquoketa, Postville, Waukon, Winterset and, tentatively, Dubuque.

Bob Sack of Manchester, chairman of the Delaware Crossing Scenic Byway, said he loves the project because “it lets us highlight what’s important to our area rather than something abstract.”

The Delaware County byway, he said, is to have works of art in both Manchester and Delhi.

Delhi has offered its city park as a site for a sculpture that is to likely commemorate some aspect of boating, a popular activity on the community’s signature attraction, Lake Delhi, he said.

In Manchester, which is becoming well known for its spectacular white-water course, a sculpture at the park’s entrance is to likely feature a kayak or float tube, he said.

“We’re looking for something that will encourage people to take photos with it,” Sack added.

The art project was inspired by another byways initiative — the recently completed installation of 25 interpretive panels at points of interest along the routes.

In fact, one of the most popular of those installations — a sculpture simulating a giant eagle nest — was cited in a successful application to secure a National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” grant to help fund coordinators for the art project, Marlatt said.

The sculpture sits in front of the North Fayette Valley Middle School, whose students conceived the idea of an eagle nest built on a scale that would convey to people within it the spatial environment of nesting eagles. The installation includes a pair of spotting scopes visitors can use to study the actual eagle nest a half mile east in a tree overlooking the Turkey River.

The interpretive panels inform byway travelers of natural points of interest and conservation practices undertaken to ensure their preservation for future visitors, said byway coordinator Jared Nielsen, who did the graphic design for the panels.

Byways of Iowa Foundation Board Chairman Rod Marlatt, director of the Fayette County Conservation Department, said Iowa’s rural areas have not gotten their fair share of public art.

“Although 55 percent of Iowans live in communities of fewer than 10,000 people, only 24 percent of state grants for art projects are awarded to communities under 10,000,” said Rod Marlatt, who is Mallory Marlatt’s father.

Project partners believe the place-based public art can draw and engage travelers, he said, adding that 75 percent of visitors to the Iowa Tourism Office website are looking for information about Iowa’s scenic byways and opportunities to enjoy art, history and culture along the way.

To help fund the project, Casey’s General Stores and members of the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores of Iowa are accepting donations at participating stores in September.

Donations can also be made on the website.

The campaign is an opportunity to show that Casey’s General Stores and its employees want to help Iowa’s small towns thrive, said Bob Ford, the company’s vice president of store operations.

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