June 19, 2024

Conservation seeks support for grant funding

Congressional district dollars could benefit Red Rock Prairie Trail, education center

Congressional district dollars could be used to complete the Red Rock Prairie Trail extending through Jasper County into Polk County or create an Environmental Education Center to act as both a tourism attraction and as a welcome center for the area, provided conservation secures the right grants.

On April 13, the Jasper County Board of Supervisors signed letters of support for conservation to pursue grants from the Member Designated Projects and Community Project Funding, which have to be submitted to Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa’s Second District.

Jasper County Conservation Director Keri Van Zante explained to supervisors there are funds available for each of Iowa’s congressional districts. The Member Designated Projects uses transportation dollars, while the Community Project Funding uses appropriations money.

Van Zante and JEDCO Executive Director Jeff Davidson are working on applying for additional funding to finish Red Rock Prairie Trail, specifically the section of the path from Prairie City to Mitchellville. Conservation already owns the easement, which Davidson noted is a “key factor” in this grant process.

“Because these projects need to be ready to go,” Davidson said of the 16-mile trail. “This process is not for projects where you’re going to be years down the road. It’s for projects they want to see something happening, something going into the ground on a fairly short order.”

For the past five years, the Red Rock Prairie Trail project has successfully received almost $2.5 million in grants and donations from various sources. Davidson said conservation the section of the trail from Monroe to Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is fully funded.

If conservation were to secure a grant of $1.5 million from the Member Designated Projects process, it would complete the necessary funding and allow bid letting to happen during summer 2021 and for construction to begin fall 2021 and spring 2022.

In the drafted letter of support included in the board of supervisors agenda, the trail would provide “many valuable connections,” including at the federally owned Neal Smith Refuge, the nearby Chichaqua Valley Trail, larger cities like Altoona and Pella and smaller communities like Mitchellville, Prairie City and Monroe.

“This trail will move us closer towards future connections to the Gay Lea Wilson Trail in Altoona, a Level 1 trail and part of the Central Iowa Trail System, and the Lake Red Rock area,” the letter stated. “Lake Red Rock contains the Volksweg Trail which connects with Pella to the east.”

Red Rock Prairie Trail will enhance interactions among communities along the trail, connect two towns of the same school district and provide a “unique mode of transportation to several local festivals and celebrations.” Officials have long explained the economic and recreational benefits of the trail.

The City of Mitchellville, Davidson added, is “really anxious” for the project and already have a plan for a connecting pathway from the Red Rock Prairie Trail to the Chichaqua Valley Trail. Once that happens, Jasper County is connected to the Des Moines metro and becomes a key economic development driver.

Van Zante said, “To have two trails that are connected to Des Moines from one county — Chichaqua and Red Rock Prairie Trail — to come together and connect is huge.”

Davidson also thinks it’s great Van Zante is applying for the Community Project Funding to go towards an Environmental Education Center, which is described in the letter to Miller-Meeks as “a hub for promoting the use of all conservation areas for education and recreation.”

Jasper County Conservation stated the education center will be a LEED Platinum-certified building located on approximately 40 acres of land southeast of Newton. The center will reflect Jasper County’s production of renewable resources from wind energy and biodiesel.

The education center, the letter to Miller-Meeks stated, will “demonstrate conservation and sustainable design through the use of photovoltaic cells, passive solar energy, geothermal and local and recycled products.

Volunteers and staff at conservation reach more than 15,000 people annually and provide outdoor learning experiences for students of all ages. Oftentimes conservation partners with school districts in the county, helps local scouts and hold several large family events each year.

So far, $700,000 in private donations have been collected for this project. A grant of $1.5 million from the Community Project Funding would provide the needed funding to allow construction to begin in 2022, the letter stated.

Both processes offer 80-20 matching grants.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com