July 23, 2014

Indian Creek Nature Center to build new learning facility

Plans are being unveiled to build a sophisticated environmental learning center in Cedar Rapids that would be able to generate all of its own power, along with a butterfly house and an expanded trail system.

The Indian Creek Nature Center operates out of an old dairy barn, but executive director John Meyers says the proposed new building would be one of the most sustainable in the state. “We’re going to go after a certification called the Living Building Challenge, which is much different than LEED,” Meyers says. “We’re going to be the second and the largest building within the state of Iowa to be Net Zero. We’re going to produce 100-percent of the electricity we use on-site.”

More than $4 million has been raised toward the seven-million dollar goal. If that goal is met by year’s end, Meyers says construction on the new building could begin next year. “What this would really allow us to do is expand our programming quite a bit,” Myers says. “We’re going to be expanding the number of hiking trails we have. We’re going to put some new prairies in. We also have a new butterfly house that will help with our monarching program and allow us to increase our protection of monarchs.”

To qualify as a “Living Building,” the center will be built using sustainable materials, collect rainwater and repurpose it, and generate all the energy it uses through rooftop solar panels. The current center, in the 1930s-era barn, would be repurposed as a destination for hikers on the trail system.


Davenport Central band to march in national July 4th parade in 2015

A high school marching band from eastern Iowa will represent the state at the 2015 National Independence Day Parade in Washington D.C. While that’s about 11-and-a-half months away, fundraising is already underway to send the Davenport Central Marching Blue Devils to the nation’s capitol. Band director Alex Wilga says it’s a big honor — and a big band.

“We have 220 students in the band program, 141 are in the march band program and 100 are traveling to Washington D.C. with us,” according to Wilga.

The historic 4th of July parade goes down Constitution Avenue and along the National Mall. Wilga says it’s a tremendous honor to be selected.

“The only way that a group can participate is with congressional nomination,” Wilga says. “Thanks to Congressman Loebsack and his office, we were nominated to represent the state of Iowa. The other exciting and unique part is, there’s only one representative from each state.”

The band will be going from Davenport to D.C. by bus, leaving on July 1st of next year, returning home on the 6th, so Wilga says their time in Washington will be tightly scheduled and packed with educational opportunities.

“The 4th is really booked up with the performance and enjoying fireworks and the National Symphony Orchestra’s concert,” Wilga says. “The 3rd is hopefully a lot of sightseeing along the National Mall and hopefully, we get to visit Arlington National Cemetery.”

The band needs to raise $86,000 for the trip over the next year and is already launching money-raising events like car washes, trivia nights and pot luck suppers.


Senator Grassley to discuss ‘nonsensical regulations’ with head of EPA

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley will meet later today with the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an outfit he says is out to “harm American agriculture” with it’s far-reaching policies. Grassley, a Republican, is scheduled to meet with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on “agriculture regulator matters” and Grassley says he’ll be giving McCarthy an earful.

Grassley says, “Almost every town meeting I have, something comes up about the power grabs of EPA and the nonsensical regulations that they’re putting in place, particularly right now.” Rural electric cooperatives generate about 80 percent of their electricity from coal, Grassley says, and rural agriculture is a big user of that energy. “The EPA’s coming out with some anti-coal regulations almost with the philosophy that we’re going to shut down coal,” Grassley says, “maybe not today, maybe not this decade but we’re going to very dramatically encourage not using fossil fuels.”

Grassley also blasts the EPA’s efforts to much more closely regulate rivers and streams across the U.S., including small creeks in which he says you couldn’t even float a canoe. “Now, there’s a lot of other regulations that are going to come up but this meeting has been called, not just by me, but by all Republican members of the Agriculture Committee,” Grassley says, “so agriculture is going to get a lot of attention because EPA is really trying to harm American agriculture.”

Grassley’s meeting with McCarthy in Washington D.C. is scheduled for 3:15 P.M./Central time.


Eastern Iowan writes book of 4-line poems

A longtime employee at a popular independent book store in eastern Iowa is on the other side of the transaction now, pitching his own first book. Paul Ingram has assembled what he’s calling, “The Lost Clerihews of Paul Ingram.”

A clerihew is a type of 4-line poem that’s very brief and leans toward the humorous and irreverent. Ingram gives an example: “J.M. Barrie/Had too much sherry/And made a man/Out of Peter Pan,” Ingram says. “They’re sort of literary things that are disrespectful to those who frequently get too much respect.”

The 67-year-old Ingram claims he began creating rhymes before he could crawl. He says he’s been reciting clerihews for more than 20 years and has finally put them all in one place. “There are about 150 of them in there,” Ingram says. “Some of them are on the naughty side. Some of them push things to the very edge of being too naughty and they have really taken off like wildfire in Iowa City.” Ingram has been a bookseller at Prairie Lights in Iowa City for some two-and-a-half decades.

There are all sorts of poetry, from haikus to limericks, but Ingram says the cherihew has long appealed to him. “They’re four lines, the first line has to be the name of somebody famous and the rest of it has to sort of make fun of them,” he says. The first two lines need to rhyme with each other, as do the last two lines.

He offers two more examples of his poems:

“Joseph McCarthy/Hirsute and swarthy/Never looked pretty/Before his committee,” Ingram reads. “Willa Cather/Would really have rather/Been William or Walt/Though it wasn’t her fault.”

The book is available through the Ice Cube Press, based in North Liberty.



State economic development officials use nostalgia as part of their pitch


A Viewmaster used to promote Iowa.

New versions of vintage toys from the 1950s and ’60s are helping to prod business leaders around the nation into building their next facility in Iowa.

Tina Hoffman, spokeswoman for the Iowa Economic Development Authority, says about 2,500 key corporate leaders across the U.S. are receiving green-and-white care packages from the Hawkeye State.

“We have a targeted list of prospects that we’re going out to,” Hoffman says. “One of the things that we’ve done is to send them things that are kind of different, that they’ll keep on their desk and will put Iowa at the top of their mind when they are considering their next business expansion or relocation project.”

One of the incentive gifts is a rebranded Viewmaster. It resembles a pair of binoculars but instead of being used to see far-away objects, several color photos of Iowa are pre-loaded in the devices.

“We have included with them one disc and there are about eight pictures,” Hoffman says. “It talks about everything from quality of life to business climate to commute times, all of those things that are important when you’re looking at a new business location.”

While stereo-scopes were around decades earlier, the Viewmaster became a very popular toy starting in 1966, so there’s a clear, nostalgic appeal to business leaders who are in the Baby Boomer Generation.

“We also have done the Magic Eight Ball,” Hoffman says. “That’s a pretty cool thing. When you ask the Eight Ball a question, the answer always comes up, ‘Iowa.’ There are several different specific answers but ultimately, it’s always Iowa.”

Each device costs about $15 but Hoffman says it’s worth the price. Since January of 2011, she says the office has been working with projects that will result in more than $9 billion in capital investment in Iowa.


Bear and cubs spotted in northeast Iowa

State wildlife officials say witnesses spotted a 200-pound black bear and two cubs near the border of Fayette and Clayton counties in northeast Iowa. Vince Evelsizer, a biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says the sighting is significant because it’s evidently a mama bear and her family.

“She had to have had the cubs somewhere in the vicinity of the tri-state region,” Evelsizer says. “Whether they were actually born in Iowa is not known at this time, but it’s quite possible that they were.” If there are cubs, they would be the first cubs documented in Iowa in more than 140 years. Although once native to Iowa, black bears have not had wild populations in the state since the 1800s.

Bear droppings and tracks were found near some damaged bee hives near the town of Wadena and a resident spotted the bear and cubs. While mother bears are highly protective of their young, Evelsizer says the public shouldn’t be afraid, but caution is advised. “It’s neat if you do get to see them,” he says. “Maybe snap a few pictures from a distance and then leave the area and leave them be. We would just like folks to know about it and be aware of it.”

Evelsizer says a sighting of a breeding female and cubs could indicate a future spike in Iowa’s black bear population. Up until now, most bear sightings in Iowa have been young males, traveling through the state in search of new territory.

Senator Harkin ‘upset’ with governor’s stance on illegal immigrant children

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin is chiding Iowa’s governor over the situation with thousands of Central American children entering the U.S. illegally and unaccompanied via the border with Mexico. Republican Governor Branstad has said he has empathy for the children but he does not want any of them coming to Iowa. Harkin, a Democrat, says he’s disappointed with Branstad’s decision. “I’m just upset at this harshness — this harshness — that seems to be pervading our politics these days,” Harkin says. “Even in a terrible situation like this, even the administration says we’ve gotta’ change the law to send them back quicker. No we don’t.”

The mayor of Davenport is offering to create a refuge for some of the children. Mayor Bill Gluba says he’s working with hospitals, churches and other groups to make a haven for the refuges in the Mississippi River town. Harkin applauds Gluba’s effort. “What we need to do is make sure the kids are safe, well-fed, housed, clothed and that we do our utmost to make sure they are not returned to dangerous situations,” Harkin says. “Then we can be talking about how we work with Central American governments to crack down on the gangs and the violence in their own countries.”

The federal government has placed some 200 of the immigrant children with families in Nebraska, but that state’s governor says no one in state government was told where or with whom. Governor Branstad was trying to prevent a similar move in Iowa, but Harkin says that’s the wrong attitude. “Governor Branstad said don’t send immigrant children to Iowa,” Harkin says. “You know, why not? Why can’t we help protect these kids too? Open up our arms to keep them safe and to give them every reasonable opportunity to apply for asylum.”

Harkin notes a contrast between Branstad and another Iowa Republican. “What a departure from Governor Bob Ray, back in the ’70s, when he was governor and we took all the boat people from Vietnam and the Hmong from Laos,” Harkin says. “They didn’t go through proper channels. They were refugees and we took them in and they have become a wonderful part of the Iowa community.”

Since October, some 57,000 children have come across the U.S. border with Mexico illegally from nations like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Harkin says Iowa should welcome the children, saying, “that’s in keeping with our history in Iowa.”