Photo from the Le Mars Historic Preservation Commission.

No other state has as many local governments participating in a program run by the National Park Service. The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs director Mary Cownie says over 100 cities and counties in Iowa have received the “certified local government” designation from the Park Service.

“This highlights communities with an active local historic preservation effort, an effort that we know is critical to building vibrant communities and stimulating economic growth,” Cownie says.

According to the National Park Service website, the goal of the program is to “save the irreplaceable historic character of places.” Once an area receives “Certified Local Government” status, it gets technical assistance from state and federal experts, plus it’s eligible for government grants. Cownie cites the experience of a northwest Iowa community that received a state grant two years ago.

“Le Mars has had a model historic preservation commission and with the help of a (Department of Cultural Affairs) grant, was successful in listing their downtown of more than 70 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places,” Cownie says.

The commercial district in Le Mars was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. The community has recently received a half-a-million-dollar federal grant to help renovate the store fronts of about three dozen businesses, so they’ll look like they did when the structures were first built. The building owners will finance about 25 percent of the project. Federal grant money along with funds from the City of Le Mars will cover the rest of the cost.

According to the National Park Service, studies show historic districts maintain higher property values, have less population decline and foster “a greater sense of community” among residents.