Proverbs tells us that good things come to those who wait. However, when it comes to funding Iowa’s Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreational Trust Fund, our legislators have taken “waiting” to truly biblical proportions. The Legislature has not allocated one penny to the fund since 2010 when voters overwhelmingly approved this constitutionally protected funding source to improve our water quality, protect our soil, enhance our wildlife habitat and increase our outdoor recreational opportunities. It has been a decade of legislative inaction and absent leadership on these vital outdoor conservation measures. Some might call that downright slothfulness, and they would be correct.
Fortunately, we in Linn County have not been waiting for the prairie grasses and pollinators to grow under our feet. We have taken action through our voter-approved $40 million dollar Linn County Water and Land Legacy Bond Fund, which is funding projects such as targeted wetlands and key floodwater storage areas, stream restorations, new wildlife and hunting areas, enhanced parks, trail systems and outdoor recreational opportunities.
Additionally, in 2014 the voters of rural Linn County approved a 10 year Local Option Sales Tax where 25% of the collected revenue, or about $1.5 million annually, is utilized by the Linn County Conservation Board for our natural areas, parks, streams and trails. Without any doubt, over the last decade, we are the leading county in the State of Iowa on addressing the important issues of caring for our natural resources, protecting and preserving our waterways and woodlands and investing in outdoor recreation projects. Some might call that downright pridefulness, and they would be correct, but it should be understood that this pride has been earned.
Linn County has accomplished much through leadership and collaboration. We have partnered with local organizations like the Monarch Research Project to restore 1,000 acres of public lands to a diverse native prairie habitat. Cedar Rapids has reclaimed the industrial polluted Cedar Lake for restoration and recreation. Marion has added substantially to its outdoor amenities through Lowe Park and miles of new trails. Central City and Pinicon Ridge Park have become a destination for canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and camping. Fantastic non-profit organizations like the Linn County Trails Association, Trees Forever, Indian Creek Nature Center, Pheasants Forever, Linn Area Mountain Biking Association and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, among scores of others, have visibly and literally changed the landscape of our community to make this area one of the best places to live, work, and play through their partnership with local governments.
More is yet to come as we continue our hike up the mountain with leadership, persistence, and sticking to our “true north” commitment to preservation, conservation, and enhancing our outdoor areas. Who knows, maybe even our former landfill affectionately known as Mount Trashmore will be reclaimed as a county or city park, with a nice trail for mountain biking, a vista to overlook our city, covered in pollinators and prairie grasses. Hint: It’s happening folks!
Imagine what we could do if the State of Iowa followed us on these trails of conservation leadership. If legislators finally woke up from their 10 year slumber of inaction and funded Iowa’s Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreational Trust Fund, more than $200 million annually could be immediately invested and put to work to finally address our water quality crisis. We could make significant gains on lake restorations, watershed protections, soil conservation measures, protecting natural resources, building and connecting recreational trails, enhancing our parks and natural areas and really start collaborating all over this state to make Iowa a truly wonderful and sustainable place to live, work, and play for us and for future generations.
Brent C. Oleson is a member of the Linn County Board of Supervisors and resides in Marion.