This article is published in Explore Magazine’s fall & winter 2018 issue, featuring Iowa’s scenic byways. This week, The Gazette will publish articles featuring one byway each day online. You can pick up a hard copy of the magazine at area businesses, convenience stores and grocery stores. You also can pick up a copy at The Gazette.
One of the most recent additions to the Driftless Area Scenic Byway is the Driftless Area Education & Visitors Center, just south of downtown Lansing.
The center celebrates the natural history of the region with interpretive displays, classrooms, recreational trails and two decks overlooking the Mississippi River.
“As people come in from Minnesota or Wisconsin or from within Iowa, they can stop at the visitor center and learn about natural resources and about the history of area,” said Jim Janett, executive director of Allamakee County Conservation. “The center shows people what there is to see or do, not just in Lansing or Allamakee County, but the overall region.”
The three-story, 10,000 square foot center is free to visit. A fundraising effort helped bring to life the $3.6 million center, which opened on Aug. 12, 2017.
Exhibits provide a deep dive into important attributes of the region, such as river-town economies, natural history, Native American cultures, archaeology, wildlife, geology, streams and rivers.
Standing on the lower observation deck outside the center, visitors can learn as traffic chugs by on the Mississippi River, with educational placards explaining tidbits like how the Upper Mississippi generated more than $250 billion in revenue and supported 755,000 jobs in river towns such as Lansing in 2015.
One can also see how a barge compares to a rail car or a semi trailer in size and volume of products they can carry.
Inside, visitors can learn about the fishing industry, see live snakes, including timber rattlesnakes, and see what it is like to captain a barge. Janett points to the live bee exhibit, a video program about the mysteries of the driftless region, and a turtle display as other popular features.
Through mid-June, the center had hosted 12,000 people from 18 countries and 44 states, including many repeat visitors, Janett said.
“Visitation has been phenomenal,” Janett said. “It has exceeded what we thought we would do for the first year.”
If you go
WHAT: Driftless Area Education and Visitors Center
WHERE: 1944 Columbus Road, Lansing
DETAILS: (563) 538-0400, allamakeecountyconservation.org/driftless-center.html