Progress on the Storm Lake City Beautiful Garden project being spearheaded by local resident Carla Offenburger has been untracked for the time being by two factors: the Canadian National Railroad and the season of winter.
Project volunteers, who want to spruce up land around the city's railroad tracks with a variety of flowers, grasses and low-lying brush, initially hoped to begin preliminary work on the dirt-moving part of the beautification effort last fall, but were unable to obtain permission for the project from the owner of the tracks, the Canadian National Railroad.
The winter season then delayed progress even further, and Offenburger said the earliest volunteers would be able to begin work on the project would be in two to three months when temperatures rise.
"Our committee has to submit a proposal to the Chamber of Commerce on how we want to use the funds that they have informally earmarked for us, so we still have to do that, and we have to wait until spring comes to really begin any serious work. We're in a holding pattern right now," Offenburger said.
"Right now, with everything going on with the Harbor House and Cobblestone, the beautification project is on the back burner for the time being," Storm Lake Area Development Corporation CEO Chris Nolte said. "It's definitely something we're interested in, but it's just one of many things we're working on right now."
Conceived by a group led by Offenburger last fall, the civic organization's initial focus will center around the tracks of Lake Avenue, the spot volunteers deemed to be most visible and most in need of improvement.
In addition to numerous flowers and grasses, the delegation would then continue its Lake Avenue plan by constructing a walking trail lined with gazebos at certain points where visibility is not affected between the trains and other traffic. A long-term vision would apply the beautification effort to other spots bordering the Storm Lake tracks all across Storm Lake.
The City Beautiful Garden group has already informally received a grant of $3,000 from the Chamber's RAGBRAI funds, and have received advice from several local businesses on matters such as proper dirt composition and what type of flowers might work best for the project.
However, the entire plan hinges on permission from officials from the regional Canadian National Railroad office in Waterloo, and Offenburger said that was the biggest obstacle for the beautification committee at the moment.
"The railroad is not being very cooperative at all," Offenburger said. "It just seems that there are crossed signals with the railroad right now, because every time we call them it doesn't seem like they're willing to cooperate with us right now."
"We have to work with them and work out something with them," Nolte said. "The first person we talked to was willing to work with us, and the second person wasn't as willing. The city has pledged their support in encouraging the railroad to be cooperative in the venture, and I would hope that we would be able to work out something with them in the near future."
Nolte said the greatest area of concern from the railroad's point of view was the issue of liability, as the railroad fears the effort to make the area more aesthetically pleasing could draw too many people around the tracks and increase the likelihood of accidents between trains and cars or trains and pedestrians.
"From what I've heard, liability is the big question," Nolte said. "From what I can interpret, they're inclined to think that beautifying the area around the railroad tracks would draw more people around the area of the tracks, and then liability becomes a greater concern for them.
"But, we've talked to people in different places that have had the area around tracks through their cities spruced up, and it hasn't caused problems in those areas at all," Nolte continued. "We're just going to continue working with the railroad and keep on making progress with them."
As the Lake Avenue project will ultimately depend on CN approval, neither Offenburger nor Nolte have set up a specific timetable for the project yet, but are hoping the railroad will give consent as soon as possible to begin the effort in several months.
While Offenburger said her own small group will continue to focus on the Lake Avenue section of track, she said she hopes everyone in town will help spruce up their own sections of the city to make Storm Lake even more attractive in the future.
"I recently saw that the city Parks Commission is asking people to adopt and beautify their own areas of town, and that's great," Offenburger said. "That's really what this is all about. It's about people of Storm Lake coming together and making their own areas beautiful and making the whole town even more beautiful than what it already is."