IOWA OUTDOORS - Rebuilding Iowa, and the lake

Friday, December 28, 2001

Iowa! The beautiful land. To some, it's a place of unbroken crop fields that feed the world; to others, it's a vast inland desert, sprinkled with towns and villages and small cities.

To many, it's the land of opportunity; for far too many, it's a dead-end street -

someplace to leave as soon as possible.

Iowa's in trouble these days. Small farmers got tired of struggling to make a living and sold-out to larger operations. Continued depressed crop prices have sped up this process. And as soon as the ink dries on the sale contract, the now displaced Iowans head south, to warmer climates. They take with them their inventiveness, money and

physical presence.

Younger people, those still in school, count the days, sometimes, until they can finally graduate and leave. The destination seems to change - the theme is constant. They're bound for someplace where they can make money, have a good job and house, and be exposed to "culture." The latter includes mega-malls, rock concerts, and many many bright lights, presumably.

When these young people leave Iowa, they carry with them the hope and promise of Iowa! It isn't quite as bad when older people go; they've worked hard to build Iowa through the years. And they've supported the state through taxes and volunteer work and participation in school and church activities.

Today, there's a new sense of national pride, one of rebuilding following the September 11 tragedy. Surely this needs to be done. But in the concern and headlong rush to exhibit national pride, we often forget about local concerns.

Local concerns used to come first! Go to a nursing home and talk with some of the older people there. You'll be surprised at what you hear - their memories are quite

different from the Iowa of today.

There used to be a steady progression of farmers from their farms into the small towns of Iowa. When they got old enough to retire, they just went to their local communities and settled in among friends known for years. And some of the younger folk went into towns, too, and worked in either one of Iowa's small industries or a store that provided goods and services to those remaining on the farm.

A select few, the best-and-brightest, went to one of Iowa's colleges or universities. Their goal, though, wasn't necessarily to get an education and leave Iowa - it was to return to their hometowns and make things better for their parents and brothers and sisters who remained.

Almost without exception, though, the conversation of oldsters turns to the natural resources of their youth! Men remember the great pheasant-hunts of yesteryear, perhaps. Some walked miles, through bitter blizzards, to hunt coyotes and fox, and accepted this hardship as routine. They remember the traplines set with care, and the money that fur once brought into the household.

What memories of Iowa do our young people have? Good? Bad? Indifferent?

It's our task today to start rebuilding Iowa and make sure those memories are "good." We can pick the best that Iowa has to offer and build on that foundation. In other words, make Iowa a place that kids don't want to leave. Make it a place that oldsters might have second thoughts about leaving, if only for the winter months.

To do this, I propose wise land and water use. Iowa's economy, its life and its future, has always revolved around natural resources. Resources attracted people to Iowa - they will keep them inside state boundaries.

For example, I think the revitalization of Storm Lake isn't an optional thing; it's essential for the local area. A deeper, cleaner lake might be the difference between attracting new high-tech industry to the area, or having them go elsewhere.

A deeper, cleaner lake might be the difference between Iowa losing a newly educated young doctor or nurse, or keeping that valuable resource within the state. Ask yourselves, "Where did all the past graduates of area schools go?"

The honest answer to this question has to be that many are still in the area, helping build Iowa, but perhaps more left than stayed. They will be building a future for some other state, some other community. And, Iowa's loss increases with level of education. Think of the industry Iowa could have had if all the Iowans now working in the Silicon Valley had decided to stay and build in Iowa.

To entice these young people to return, and to keep those we still have left, we need to start "thinking outside the box." Today, the world is Iowa's marketplace. Think like that, and local problems can be resolved.

Sure, it's going to take local hands to help dredge the lake. And yes, it's going to take area wide involvement. Costs will be high. But the benefits will far, far out weigh immediate dredging costs. Perhaps in ways we can't even imagine today.

The end product will be a city and an area that people don't want to leave.