This month marks two years since seven Jasper County communities entered the Hometown Pride Program.
Organized through the statewide nonprofit Keep Iowa Beautiful, the idea behind Hometown Pride is to pool resources and organize the smaller towns in rural counties to realize county-wide planning, while executing smaller, localized projects.
The original seven towns in Jasper County — Newton, Baxter, Prairie City, Monroe, Colfax, Lynnville and Sully — were joined in 2017 by Kellogg and Mingo.
These nine cities in Hometown Pride are collectively paying $20,000 per year for five years to commission a community coach to write grants, organize and seek private investment for local and county-wide projects. Keep Iowa Beautiful contributes the remaining $60,000 per year.
Former Iowa City Economic Development Administrator Jeff Davidson was tapped for the job in March 2015. Two years later, Davidson sat down with Newton Daily News to give a quick synopsis of just some of the projects underway or completed with help from the local Hometown Pride Committees.
The most recent project to come to fruition through Hometown Pride, was a joint-effort with the Jasper County Economic Development Corp. to release a comprehensive housing study of each HP participating community.
Presented in February by strategic planning firm RDG Planning and Design, the study details housing demand and needs based on population trends/forecasts, developer interest and challenges in all nine Hometown Pride towns. Davidson said the Sully Betterment Committee and the Lynnville Hometown Pride/Chamber of Commerce Committee have used the study to take action.
“Both groups have been really keen on trying to come up with what is needed in order to come up with the right types of housing developments,” Davidson said.
The southeastern Jasper County towns are already linked by a school district, and will soon to be linked by a paved recreational trail.
Davidson calls the proposed 4-mile trail the two towns’ “signature” Hometown Pride project. Planning is well underway, and members of Lynnville and Sully’s Hometown Pride committees are now securing permission from area landowners to use their properties for the trail route.
“It’s something that has slowed down a little because, as what always happens, we have a couple of property owners who are a little more reticent,” Davidson. “There is great respect for private property rights. We want to make sure it’s fully vetted but we’re truly hopeful.”
Once the final consent is given by landowners, Davidson said the towns’ committees will start to seek grants and other funding for the project.
But Lynnville and Sully have also done smaller projects through Hometown Pride. In Sully, grants from Prairie Meadows and Alliant Energy are helping with improvements to Central Park, and the program obtained a backup generator for the Sully Community Center.
Grant funds are secured in Lynnville to restore the Bell Memorial at the old school. Davidson said another goal of the project is to preserve artifacts from the school.
In Baxter, Hometown Pride is focused on improvements to Geise Park.
Davidson said the final draft of improvement plans is expected within the next two weeks, but the Iowa State University Park architecture graduate students drew up some preliminary designs for the park in April 2016.
Baxter’s Hometown Pride Committee then selected one of the concepts, and hired HBK Engineering to refine the design and create a master plan to upgrade and improve the park.
On Feb. 9, the design firm presented a refined draft of the master plan for Geise Park to the committee and gathered feedback from the group’s members.
The current plan preserves the park’s storm water collection function while adding new features, including a splash pad, an amphitheater, a traditional playground, a picnic shelter, additional off-street parking and a nature play area.
Baxter is also looking at installing new way-signs in town. The two signs will be placed on High Street and Main Street near County Highway F17 West. Depending on the budget, the organization may install a third sign on East Avenue.
In February, city council members asked if the design could incorporate bicycles, in order to highlight one of Baxter’s major attractions, the Chichaqua Valley Trail. Working with the Friends of the Chichaqua Valley Trail, marketing the recreational path that connects Baxter to the Des Moines metro area is a priority for Baxter Hometown Pride.
Also using information from the housing study, Baxter is also looking at development for senior and affordable housing starts to compliment on-going higher price point homes in the city’s Westfield Horizon development.
Also along the Chichaqua Valley Trail, Mingo’s newly minted Hometown Pride Committee is looking into amenity and marketing development on the recreation path.
The group is preparing for this summer’s Pedaler’s Jamboree, which is a two-day ride/concert series along the trail from Bondurant to Baxter.
The trail rolls into Mingo’s other focus — parks. Community Park is along the trail, and Mingo’s Hometown Pride is looking at unspecified enhancements and potentially add tent camping for bike riders — a trail feature also being explored by Baxter.
In the town’s newest subdivision on the southeast side of town, Davidson said there is an undeveloped plot of land which developers intended to be a park. Hometown Pride wants to get that project off the ground.
Kellogg is the newest community to be added to Hometown Pride, and the focus there is Holmdahl Park.
After just three meetings, Kellogg’s committee hopes to restore the canoe/kayak launch in the riverfront park. The flood of 2010, Davidson said, caused significant damage to the launch which carries paddles to portage in Lynnville.
While researching funding for that project, Kellogg Hometown Pride has discovered $10,000 in remaining FEMA funds from the flood designated for playground equipment. Davidson said the committee’s next task is inventory the park, identifying what needs repaired or improved.
In Colfax, Hometown Pride has been key to obtaining grants to fund extensive projects happening at the city’s Quarry Springs Park.
Since the former 480-acre gravel pit was donated to the city by Martin Marietta Materials, Inc., the nonprofit Colfax Park and Recreation Auxiliary Board has made huge strides, establishing primitive camping, repairing eroding shorelines and building an indoor archery range — just to name a few completed projects.
The park’s 15-year masterplan includes RV camping, active and passive lakes, retail and possible housing, plus more.
Hometown Pride members also had a hand in the Colfax Visioning Committee’s conceptual designs for better pedestrian safety and downtown streetscape beautification.
Released last fall, the downtown streetscape and recreational trail loop images, created by RDG Planning & Design, are part of the Iowa Living Roadways Community Visioning Program. Colfax was one of six Iowa communities given the design award in 2016, sponsored by the Iowa Department of Transportation in partnership with Iowa State University and Trees Forever.
An overview of the design concepts show beautification and bicycle/pedestrian safety improvements to areas including Colfax’s Highway 117 corridor entrance; trail improvements and connections from Quarry Springs Park into downtown; downtown streetscape work; crosswalk improvements across Highway F48 from the Colfax Public Works parking to the Colfax soccer fields; safe routes to school on a recreational trail loop, and future connections to the Chichaqua Valley Trail and Prairie City Trails.
Hometown Pride has applied for pole/lamppost banners to compliment the design going down Highway 117.
At it’s most recent city council meeting, Colfax released its first strategic plan in decades, drafted with assistance from Hometown Pride.
Prairie City and Monroe’s big project involving Hometown Pride is a rails-to-trails program, developing a recreation trail connecting the two communities using an abandoned Iowa Interstate Railroad rail bed.
The project aims to connect Monroe, Prairie City and Mitchellville, with the eventual goal to connect Marion County and Lake Red Rock in Pella to the Des Moines metro and central Iowa trail system. The abandoned rail corridor extending from Highway F62 West, southeast of Prairie City through Jasper County to Highway S27 near Mitchellville.
Community leaders initially worked with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation as early as 2014 to help secure funding sources and the rail bed easement from Iowa Interstate Railroad.
Davidson said design work will begin in 2017, and he hopes construction will start and finish in 2018. The trail project’s lead backer, Jasper County Conservation, is the organization that will also maintain the trail. Construction will start at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge and move east toward Monroe.
There is currently a $510,000 Federal Land Access Program Grant to develop the trail, and Davidson said $200,000 to $300,000 remains from the acquisition funds which should be available for trail development.
In Monroe, the city council has already extended its segment of the trail into the city from Lincoln Street to Marion Street. City crews laid 1,700-feet of gravel base for the three acres of land Monroe purchased for its leg of the trail in November, funded with a $10,000 grant from Wellmark. In December, the council adopted the Revised Trail Plan which slightly altered the trail route.
Remaining Wellmark funds were used to purchase benches and bike racks for a site on Marion Street, and grass seeding of the land adjacent to the trail will move forward this spring.
Currently, Jasper County Conservation is working to reestablish the trail’s right-of-way. Davidson said there is encroachment from surrounding crop fields along most of the former rail bed. Planners are working with those landowners before design work and construction can begin.
Hometown Pride in Monroe has also obtained a Prairie Meadow grant to resurface the tennis courts in Tool’s Point Park. They will replace the fencing, and a Paint Iowa Beautiful Grant has obtained paint for new tennis court lines.
In Newton, Davidson said two Hometown Pride-backed projects are about to come to fruition.
Newton Hometown Pride committee invited students from the University of Iowa to analyze four murals and create a report on work that needs to be done. The students met with four local city leaders to discuss and tour the murals in June.
In July, students conducting a thorough assessment of each mural including dimensions, primers, concerns, art mediums and evidence of structural damage. A mural sketch was made for documentation and a list of products and materials were determined.
The murals include the 36 by 82 foot mural on the west side of the E-Clips building featuring a welcome to Newton message, the 16 by 35 foot American flag mural on the VFW building, the 30 by 135 foot Newton farm scene mural at Sersland Park and the 12 by 50 foot mural on the west side of The Farmer’s Wife building featuring Newton stores.
The total cost to complete the work, including cleaning, touch ups and repairs is approximately $10,000. The University of Iowa has gifted Newton $4,000 to use toward the project but an additional $6,000 is needed to complete the work.
Davidson said a community group of volunteers, lead by Newton Main Street, is assembling to work with the students overseeing the project.
Newton is also expanding its way-finding signs on Highway 14 and Highway 6, with assistance from Hometown Pride.
Hometown Pride is also part of the group that is working on the DMACC greenspace between the main DMACC building in Newton and the recently acquired former Maytag campus.
NDN Staff Writers Jamee Pierson and Anthony Victor Reyes Contributed to this report
Contact Mike Mendenhall at email@example.com