If Placemaking is a Priority for Iowa, It's Time to Fund the Trust
by Alicia Vasto on Thursday, March 4, 2021
Last month, the Governor’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board released their recommendations for how the state should address challenges resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. The issues run the gamut from education to health care to agriculture. Notably, one of the major recommendations is to “Create an environment to attract and retain Iowans.”
Two of the strategies under this recommendation are to “Transform communities through creative placemaking” and “Invest in long-term water quality.” The Advisory Board correctly identified these as critical ways to invigorate Iowa’s economy and improve quality of life for all Iowans.
Placemaking is the process of increasing community attractiveness and quality of life by growing community engagement and investing in amenities such as recreational opportunities and natural beauty. This attracts and retains residents, which increases the community’s workforce, economic competitiveness, and opportunities for new business ventures. Water quality is directly related. Clean water increases the power of placemaking, creating a more attractive place to live. Polluted water is a deterrent for those considering moving to Iowa or, for native Iowans, deciding whether to stay.
Cedar Falls, Iowa
Iowa’s workforce shortage has been identified as a weakness many times in recent years. Just recently, the Iowa Business Council called Iowa’s lack of workers “bordering on a crisis.” One of the main reasons friends and peers of mine have moved away from Iowa is the lack of opportunity to enjoy outdoor recreation. This is due to both the rarity of public lands and green spaces in our state and diminished recreation opportunities due to Iowa’s poor water quality. This is not just anecdotal; one survey showed that 1 in 5 millennials might not move to a new city for a promising job opportunity if it lacks outdoor recreation.
Just as state leadership is recognizing how these issues are interrelated, Iowans are enjoying the state’s natural wonders more than ever. Last year, a record-breaking 16.6 million people visited Iowa’s state parks, 1 million more visitors than in 2019. All of the top ten most visited parks feature a lake or river, and eight have public beaches. Investing in these resources is a win-win for Iowa and Iowans.
Placemaking and improved water quality can both be accomplished by funding Iowa’s Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. The trust fund would provide crucial dollars to increase Iowa’s recreation opportunities and improve water quality. Iowans voted overwhelmingly in 2010 to create the Trust. However, the legislature has not raised the state sales tax necessary to provide funding for the Trust, leaving it empty for over a decade.
Although the Governor did not reintroduce her Invest in Iowa package from 2020 that included funding for the Trust, the conversation about recreation, workforce recruitment, and the trust fund is ongoing. Representative Beth Wessel-Kroeschell introduced HF 544, a bill that would fund the trust, in mid-February. Though the bill may be considered at any time, it does not appear to be gaining much traction so far this session.
Representative Brent Siegrist introduced HF 749, a bill to provide $3 million dollars annually for three years to improve Iowa State Park amenities and infrastructure. The bill passed out of the Natural Resources committee and is now under consideration by the Appropriations committee. While it’s great to see support for state parks and recognition of the high visitation rates in 2020, the funding is far from what’s necessary to address the backlog of state park repairs and updates. It’s also a fraction of what would be provided if the trust was funded.
The good news is it appears the trends and reports we have seen over the last year are building the momentum to push Iowa’s leaders to take action on supporting recreation and Iowa’s outdoors. We’ll continue to make the call for lawmakers to take that final step to fund the Trust. If you’re not already on our email list, make sure to sign up for timely alerts about Trust Fund action and advocacy.
- water quality
- water recreation