Group discusses natural resource conservation
People from across southeast Iowa came together Thursday in Fairfield to talk about preserving the state’s natural resources.
The group met in the Fairfield Public Library and talked about the state’s Resource Enhancement And Protection program. REAP is a program that provides grants for local communities to maintain or expand the soil, water quality and vegetation of the area.
Six counties were represented at the meeting. Residents of Jefferson County spoke about the impact REAP has had on the area, such as buying land for Jefferson County Park.
Dennis Lewiston, director of the Jefferson County Conservation Board, addressed the 25 or so attendees about county conservation, which comprises 20 percent of REAP’s budget. Lewiston told the crowd that Jefferson County Park was 130 acres in the late 1980s. He and others wanted to enlarge the park but learned the surrounding ground was selling for $2,000 an acre, which was expensive at the time.
Through a grant from the REAP program, the board was able to purchase 60 acres in the 1990s and 2000s. After a few additional purchases, Jefferson County Park is now 100 acres larger than it was 30 years ago.
About 25 acres were acquired in the 1990s, and that area now houses highly used amenities such as picnic tables, a gazebo and a three-acre pond. Land purchased in 2005 known as the “Holmes” acquisition has been earmarked for future development. Lewiston said it has access to water and sewer lines, and could become campgrounds, cabins or whatever else the public desired.
The attendees passed a number of motions at the end of the meeting. One of them dealt with who would represent the counties in the statewide REAP Congress that is meetings at the State Capitol in Des Moines Jan. 4. The congress will discuss topics such as soil conservation, water quality and outdoor recreation.
The attendees decided to elect one delegate from each of the six counties in the district. Those elected were: Pete Tollenaere, Jefferson County; Gene Rathje, Wapello County; Garry Klicker, Davis County; and Jeff VanDerBeek, Mahaska County. Residents of Van Buren County said they would select someone later and no one from Keokuk County attended the meeting.
REAP received $16 million from the state for fiscal year 2014. Shawn Dettmann of Jefferson County motioned to increase the funding to $25 million to coincide with REAP’s 25th anniversary next year. The motion passed unanimously.
REAP provides grants for a wide variety of services throughout the state. One of those is planting roadside vegetation. The state maintains 750,000 acres in roadside right-of-ways.
REAP has funded programs to plant native prairie plants on the roadside, which capture nutrients in the soil and prevent them from flowing into streams. The plants allow rainwater to infiltrate deep into the soil, which also slows down runoff.
Tammie Krausman, REAP coordinator, said 15 percent of REAP’s funds go toward city parks and open spaces. She mentioned how getting kids to be more active has been a state priority in recent years. She said REAP funds recreational projects such as trails.
Krausman said surveys indicate that people who do not exercise say they would exercise if they had access to a trail. She said by getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, many health problems can be eliminated.
The second half of the meeting consisted of the crowd breaking down into small groups to discuss the benefits REAP has brought and what its priorities should be. One group suggested that creating a long trail stretching from Des Moines to Keokuk would be a great addition to the state’s trail system.