Playgrounds in malls usually don’t make the news, but a Des Moines shopping center is opening a facility today it says is “Iowa’s first interactive shopping mall play area and library.” Merle Hay Mall’s new play area measures 18-hundred-75 square feet, and spokeswoman Angel Head says it’s filled with native Iowa things to climb on, including a giant box turtle and a 12-foot-tall maple tree.There’s also a “match game” where you can match up pictures of Iowa animals, like deer. There’s an interactive map where you push buttons and it shows you where things like Des Moines and the Mississippi River are located — and big blocks show things grown in Iowa, from pigs to honey to corn. Head says the play area features a library of more than 300 books.They’ll range from being appropriate for two-year-olds through eight, and eventually through 12-year-olds. Head says they won’t be stationing a librarian in the play area — the library will operate on the honor system. The new play area opens at noon.
Archives for February 2004
Democrat Governor Tom Vislack’s rejecting the Republican plan for state spending on public schools for the 2005/2006 academic year as too meager, and Republican legislators do not intend to revisit the issue. Democrat Senator Mike Connolly of Dubuque says that’s flouting the state law which requires the legislature to set the general level of state aid for schools two years in advance. Connolly says it’s “outrageous” to ignore the law. Connolly says the republican-led legislature has done little in the month and a half it’s been meeting. Connolly says the Senate hasn’t “passed one cotton-pickin’ bill” in the seven weeks and Republicans have yet to unveil their general outline for next year’s state budget. Senator Ken Veenstra, a republican from Orange City, defends the work of his party members.Veenstra says republicans are “doing the best we can given the circumstances that surround budget issues this year.” He says the G-O-P is handling the matter in an “orderly” fashion. Connolly accuses republicans of crafting a budget outline in private so they can spring it on the public hours before a vote so there’s little chance for examination of the plan. Connolly asked whether republicans would unveil their budget plan “in the dark of night — slam, bam, thank you, ma’am — and we have no input?” He says that’s what democrats are concerned about. Veenstra says democrats and the general public will have plenty of time to review the G-O-P’s plan. Veenstra says republicans “will get the job done.” Republicans are struggling to balance a tight state budget with little extra tax revenue coming in, promises to increase education spending and a pledge not to raise taxes.
A national project to collect the stories of war veterans has several groups working in Iowa. Deb Olson, executive secretary of the Des Moines County Historical Society, says there’s lots of advice and help at the National Veterans History Project, which encourages local people and groups to gather records, memorabilia and oral histories of veterans. There are administrative things you have to do, get the veteran’s permission to record his or her story and have it archived for other people to look at. Olson says there’s a lot more than just sitting down asking questions, though that would be a good first step to talk with a veteran you know. Some are likely to be reluctant to discuss it, but she thinks sometimes it’s good for them to tell their stories and leave a record for future generations of what they did, how they felt and what happened to them during their service in the military. One veteran whose story has been recorded, and is up on the national Veterans History Project website, is Mary Louise Rasmuson. She was recorded at her home in Fairbanks Alaska, but recalled when she graduated in 1942 with the first class of WACs from the officer training school in Fort Des Moines. She remembers a woman telling her she was glad her daughter had entered the service because she was a tall girl who always stooped over at home, but she stood up tall in the military. Rasmuson. went on to direct the school, and eventually became director of the entire Womens Army Corps. She says some civilians made her irate by being more concerned with what the women’s uniforms looked like than their accomplishments. Rasmuson. told of a close call when she accompanied a class of WACS to their assignments in England, and reluctantly accepted an invitation to have dinner with a soldier at the compound there. She tells of suddenly being thrown to the ground and hearing a crash — the soldiers told her it was a “buzz bomb,” which hit one of the buildings not far from where they’d been. Rasmuson was recorded as part of the Veterans History Project. Iowa affiliates who’ve signed on to help collect stories from veterans include the Newton campus of Des Moines Area Community College, the Des Moines County Historical Society, and “Traces,” a regional educational group that collects stories of Midwesterners who encountered people from Germany and Austria during World War 2. The national site is at http://www.loc.gov/folklife/vets/about.html
Iowans who are looking for something unusual to do this weekend might consider a free class on how to make maple syrup. All you need is a maple or box elder tree in the yard, a few basic tools and a little time. Christine Kirpes , a naturalist at the Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, says the conditions are perfect. Kirpes says when it’s still freezing at night but temperatures rise into the 40s and 50s during the day, the sap starts to flow and can be tapped. She says the process of tapping a tree isn’t complicated, but you have to follow a few basic rules, like only choosing a maple or box elder that’s at least ten inches in diameter. Drill a hole in the trunk one-to-one-and-a-half inches deep, insert the metal spout and collect the sap. It has to be boiled down, which can take a long time.She says the sap is 98-percent water and two-percent sugar, so it takes many, many gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup. The free syrup-making workshop starts at 10 A.M. For more information, call the nature center at (319) 362-0664.
Iowa has a greater percentage of its National Guard and Air Guard serving on active duty than any other state. Seventy-eight percent of eligible Guard members are on full-time assignment today, in over 30 countries. Iowa National Guard Adjutant General Ron Dardis says one of the reasons for that statistic is the Iowa Guard has modernized more than units in other states. Dardis says the Iowa Guard has been “transformed” and doesn’t look like it did five years ago. He says they’ve “re-engineered and reorganized” the Guard with new equipment and “new, more relevant missions.” Dardis says the Iowa Guard has “broken out of the pack” and become one of the best state Guard units in the country. Dardis says Iowa is one of 26 states to have homeland security and emergency management under the military. He says other states are moving to this model, so Iowa “has it right.” Dardis says the Iowa Guard is at “100 percent troop strength” today, and because of the “transformation efforts” the federal government is sending 124 million more dollars to Iowa to bankroll the Guard’s operations than it did six years ago. Dardis delivered a “condition of the guard” address at the statehouse this past Wednesday.
Johnson County Recorder Kim Painter says forty same-sex couples arrived as planned to request marriage licenses Friday afternoon at the courthouse. Painter’s response was to tell them that there’s an Iowa law limiting marriage to a male and a female, and in line with her oath of office and the advice of the county attorney, she would not issue licenses. Painter says she never considered breaking Iowa’s “Defense of Marriage” law that was passed a few years ago and giving out marriage licenses to the gay couples. She says that would probably have harmed the gay and lesbian community, leaving them open to charges that they can’t be trusted in public office and would “hand out marriage licenses” despite the law. Painter says she herself would like to marry her partner of several years, and says it’s important to show people that there are committed gay couples who have families right here in Iowa and want the legal right to marry. Many, she says, are people she knows — people of all ages, professors at the University of Iowa, professionals with world reputations in their fields of expertise. Painter says the people came to the recorder’s office, and were turned away, as a public act with a message. Painter says it’s important for Iowans to see them denied, see the individuals and hear the stories of their lives, and think about how the laws affect them.
Defending champion Hudson has jumped to the team lead in class 1A at the state wrestling tournament. All five Hudson wreslers have advanced to today’s semifinals. Pocahontas took three of their four into the semifinals, and are two points behind in second place. Don Bosco is in third place in 1A. Dan LeClere of North Linn is two wins away from a third state title. He will wrestle in tonight’s 1A semifinals at 140-pounds and is enjoying the challenge. “It’s so exciting,” LeClere says. “I love it. Everything about this tournament just pumps you up.”
The final stage is about to begin on the Iowa Hall of Pride, which will be part of the Iowa Events Center in downtown Des Moines. Jack Lashier of the Iowa High School Athletic Association has been working on the project for several years and he says work on the interior will begin in April. There’ll be 26-thousand feet of “interactive space” and Lashier says it seems “almost surreal” that after seven years of work, the Hall of Pride will soon become reality. The Hall will include memorabilia as well as interactive exhibits and Lashier has been scouring the state trying to get all of the state’s 402 high schools to take part. About 310 schools have responded, and they’ve developed websites and collected school fight songs. “If you grew up in Iowa and you graduated from an Iowa high school, you are going to want to go to the Hall of Pride because it’s all about those growing up years,” Lashier says. Bernie Saggau, executive director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association, says they expect to open late in the year. “We want to make sure she’s really ready to go,” he says. “We want to make sure we work the bugs out.”
The Iowa mens basketball team closes out the home season tomorrow against Minnesota in Big Ten play. The Hawks are 7-6 in the Big Ten after a lopsided loss at home to Illinois and coach Steve Alford says the Hawkeyes need to bounce back. “We’ve got three huge games left,” Alford says. “Our guys fully understand everything that we’re playing for.” The Hawkeyes are in a three-way tie for fourth in the Big Ten standings and need a strong finish to the regular season. Alford says the team was a llittle down yesterday as Illinois “came in and put the hurt” on the Hawkeyes. Alford says it wasn’t a good “thinking game” for his squad, and that’s why the team’s excited to get back on the floor again to prove themselves worthy of post-season play. The Hawkeyes are 14-10 overall.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today released a key part of its master plan for managing the Missouri River system. Brigadier General William Grisoli says the environmental impact statement must be approved before the “Master Manual” can be finalized, and the document released today is the best balance to serve the purposes authorized by Congress, meet treaty obligations to tribes, and comply with federal laws on the environment and endangered species. Grisoli says the Corps is committed to improving the survival of the endangered plants and animals, providing predictability to the Missouri basin, and lessening the impact of drought by keeping more water in the reservoirs. A US District Court Judge in Minnesota has ordered the timetable be shortened to 14 days, from March 5th to the 19th. The plan does NOT include high water in spring or lower flows late in summer, the pattern recommended by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as being closest to natural and best for endangered species like the pallid sturgeon. Grisoli says the environmental impact statement and revised Master Manual describe new drought-conservation measures to save more water in the upriver reservoirs earlier in a drought than they do now. He says we wouldn’t be in this situation if we’d already had such conservation measures, because reservoirs would be several feet higher right now — and he says conserving more water “up front” is important to the river basin. Control of the dams has been the subject of several lawsuits as upriver states demand the water be kept for boating, fishing and recreation, while downriver states like Iowa and Nebraska say the dams should release more for their barge shipping, farming, drinking and power-plant water needs. Grisoli said part of a plan to restore wildlife habitat is taking “oxbow” lakes that once were bends in the river, and re-connecting them as Missouri backwaters that can provide wildlife habitat. He names Decatur Bend, one in a series of waterways cut off from the river that are being restored, and says the agency’s working with the Fish and Wildlife Service and wants to monitor that agency’s work to make sure it’s being done right.