|The River Town of the Year will be announced at the Iowa Rivers Revival annual River Congress, scheduled for Saturday, January 6 at Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines. Nominees must demonstrate "good stewardship of river water quality through compliance with wastewater and storm water permits" as well as programs geared toward "river tourism" such as river trails, river clean-ups, greenbelt protection, and promoting "commerce that accommodates river enthusiasts along the river." On its application form (pdf), Iowa Rivers Revival asks nominees to submit a two-page narrative describing relevant river programs.
Applications from past winners can be downloaded on this page.
The 2007 River Town of the Year was Webster City (Hamilton County). It was recognized for programs that made the Boone River a Designated Water Trail and the first Protected Water Area in Iowa. Webster City helped organize river clean-ups and built a trail running along the river and connecting the city to a county park, and organizes recreational and sports events in and near the river. The city's chamber of commerce organization has concentrated on attracting businesses to the riverfront neighborhood. There is also an active Boone River Watershed Association in the area.
Elkader (Clayton County) won River Town of the Year in 2008. The Turkey River, one of Iowa's best for trout fishing, runs right through the center of town. The local school has a "comprehensive river and stream ecology class" for all fifth-grade students, and high school environmental science classes. Elkader has many businesses and public buildings along the river, and the city organizes regular entertainment events near the riverfront. In addition to a riverwalk rebuilt by the city during the 1990s, there are city and private campgrounds, trails, and access points for fishing and canoeing. The Clayton County Conservation Board maintains Turkey River Park near Elkader, where there are many recreational options.
Elkader's application acknowledged past problems with water pollution but pointed to city plans to install a new wastewater treatment system and other steps to remedy excessive discharges.
Coon Rapids (Carroll County) was declared River Town of the Year in 2009. The city and the Whiterock Conservancy nearby have participated in many projects supporting water quality and recreation in the Middle Raccoon River. Trails, campgrounds and river access points have been improved, and wetlands and oak savannas along the river have been restored. The Carroll County Conservation Board and Iowa Department of Natural Resources helped create a 7-mile paddlers trail in the area.
The 2010 River Town of the Year was Cedar Falls (Black Hawk County). The city has installed bioretention cells, raingardens, permeable pavement and bioswales in the Dry Run Creek Watershed to reduce stormwater and other runoff into the Cedar River. The Black Hawk Soil and Water Conservation District, University of Northern Iowa and Cedar Falls city government have all worked to reduce soil erosion in the area, including on private lands. The City of Cedar Falls also enacted new rules on stormwater retention at construction sites and a "new Floodplain Ordinance which expands zoning restrictions from the 100 year floodplain to the 500 year floodplain." Local partner organizations have worked with the city to promote recreation including paddling, fishing, and bicycling in the area. The Cedar River Environmental Group has organized Cedar River cleanups for more than 20 years.
What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers: which Iowa community deserves to be recognized as this year's river town?