Polk County’s first WLL bond passed in 2012, with 72% approving the measure. Among numerous projects, the bond funded the new Jester Park Nature Center, the restoration of Easter Lake, and flood mitigation projects along Fourmile Creek. Rich Leopold, Director of Polk County Conservation, said, “Many of the projects funded by the 2012 Polk County Water and Legacy Bond have greatly improved quality of life for Polk County and central Iowa residents. These benefits include increased natural area preservation, improved water quality, increased outdoor recreation opportunities, amenities such as trails and campgrounds, and improved resiliency to future flooding events.” The new bond would provide $65 million for future conservation efforts. “We strongly believe we will build on the success of the past few years with the support of the new bond.”
A Water and Land Legacy bond is a new opportunity for Dubuque County. Dubuque County Conservation highlights a number of potential improvements the $40 million bond could fund, such as restoration along the Catfish Creek and Little Maquoketa Greenways, and improved recreation amenities for the Swiss Valley campground and Heritage Trail.
“I have been visiting and enjoying the parks in Dubuque County all of my adult life since I moved here more than 50 years ago," said Art Roche, Chair of the Dubuque County Land and Water Legacy. “During the pandemic, we all became much more aware of the freedom and feeling of well-being we got from being outdoors and moving. The use of parks and trails skyrocketed, and this is what convinced me to take a leadership role in getting our land and water legacy secured for the future.”
Other counties in Iowa have also utilized Water and Land Legacy bonds. Linn County voters passed a WLL bond in 2016 with 74% of the vote. Funding has since gone toward numerous water and land projects, including wetland restoration and enhancement at Wickiup Hill. Johnson County passed a $20 million bond in 2008. Those dollars have been used to leverage an additional $15 million in other grants, donations, and revenue to protect and improve 1,100 acres of parks, trails, and wetlands. These counties have led the way in demonstrating the value of water quality protection and outdoor public space to their citizens.
Funding for natural resources and recreation consistently receive support in polls and at the ballot box. If the Polk and Dubuque bonds are approved, it will be yet another confirmation that Iowans desire more outdoor amenities and water quality protection. This is a case the conservation and environmental community has made for many years, but especially over the past decade in regard to funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund (IWILL).
The statewide IWILL trust would provide funding for water quality and recreation enhancements for all of Iowa, not just motivated counties. Those dollars could be leveraged, as the county-level bond funding has been, for even greater investment in our resources through public and private partnerships. The only piece missing is the enactment of the sales tax increase by the state legislature to provide funding for the Trust.
The residents in counties with Water and Land Legacy bonds understand and see first-hand the benefits to quality of life provided by increased funding for natural resources. Those bonds will provide outdoor access and protection for future generations. It is past time the rest of the state receives those benefits as well. It’s time to fund IWILL.