Homegoing and the Blue Water Fest

posted by Ingrid Gronstal on Friday, August 20, 2021

Even though I have called Eastern Iowa home for many years, my roots are in the Western half of the state. I was born and raised in Carroll, Iowa, and I spent my summers growing up visiting family in the 

Okoboji Lake at sunsetIowa Great Lakes. Both sets of my grandparents had homes on the East shore of Spirit Lake, and both sides of my family have ancestors in Dickinson and Emmet Counties going back multiple generations. My parents met at Spirit Lake, and although I did not attend school there, it has always felt like home. 

In fact, there is a direct through line between my experiences as a kid spending summers at the lake and my work as IEC Water Program Director. I learned at a young age the fun of spending long sunny days outdoors on the water. When I was in college taking field classes at Iowa Lakeside Lab and catching frogs as an intern for Barbara Tagami and the fledgling Dickinson County Nature Center, I learned about the area’s vital ecosystems and how to protect them. In my current role, I am taking this background with me across the state and up to the Capitol as we advocate for policies and regulations that protect water quality, promote outdoor recreation, and preserve cherished spaces for future generations. 

I received an invitation to speak on a water quality panel at the Blue Water Festival in Okoboji on August 7. My fellow panelists were Dr. Larry Weber from the University of Iowa, Nathan Anderson of Practical Farmers of Iowa, and Adam Schnieders of the Iowa DNR. We discussed topics important to the area, including local conservation efforts to preserve the lakes and the

Algae blooms at Lake Okobojiimportance of tourism to Okoboji’s economy. We also covered statewide topics, like whether the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is effective at tackling nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from agricultural operations (spoiler: it is not), and whether we can build momentum to fund the Trust.  

IEC’s Executive Director Brian Campbell and I also spent most of the day tabling along with scores of other inspiring organizations participating in the festival. Especially after the last year and a half, it was great getting to reconnect with partner organizations and identify new opportunities for collaboration. The best part of the exhibitor table was getting to speak with the public about our work and learn about where they are from, why they chose Okoboji, and what clean water means to them. 

I had a few key takeaways from the event:  

  1. Folks want clean, healthy natural spaces to spend time in with family and friends. I talked with folks who had come to Okoboji from Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, and all over Iowa. The value in opportunities, not only in the local economy, but also in how happy people were to be vacationing here, was obvious. 
  2. People want more resources for outdoor recreation infrastructure and environmental protection. After the panel, a majority of the questions audience members asked me focused on how to get the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust funded. 
  3. Folks bond with places where they can experience nature and spend quality time with loved ones. The Iowa Great Lakes have been special to generations of people who grew up coming here, myself included. There is a fierce will here to protect the lakes that we cherish, for ourselves and generations to come. 

Beach at OkobojiWhile Okoboji is a well-known tourist destination, there are special places like this all over the state that need more protection, more investment, and more celebration. Over the next few months, we will be visiting communities across the state (pandemic safety permitting) to hear from locals about what spaces are important to them, what water quality means to them, and how we can empower them to protect the spaces they hold dear. Our next stop is this weekend; Megan McDowell and I are heading to the Quad Cities to visit Floatzilla and hear from locals about their connection to the mighty Mississippi River. If you’re in the area, please stop by and say hello!  

About The Author

Ingrid Gronstal is Water Program Director with the Iowa Environmental Council. She has many years of experience in water policy, most recently serving as the Compliance Specialist at the University of Iowa Utilities and Energy Management. She previously worked as a consultant with the the Univers ... read more