Posts Tagged: Driftless Area

Inspire(d) Manifesto + Driftless Region Map!

Inspire(d) Driftless Region Map

March 1, 2016. An Inspire(d) Manifesto (of sorts):

Inspire(d) Media started officially in October of 2007, but the idea was planted in my head long before that. I wanted to create a publication that made it easy for people to find inspiration – and not just pie-in-the-sky inspiration; I wanted it to be relatable.

We’ve grown and learned and changed throughout our eight-going-on-nine years running this magazine, but a few things have remained the same: People are good. Community is important. Change is possible.

The theme of this Spring Inspire(d) is “looking forward”. I like to think of that phrase as filled with optimism and hope and determination. So remember that every time you read my editors letters and see that I’ve signed it thusly. Looking forward from there, this very moment, I’m making it a goal for community to be an even bigger mission for Inspire(d). Specifically the Driftless Community. I want us all to get to know each other a little better. I want us to help each other a little better. And I want us all to have fun together!

So here’s what’s happening: We’re going on some info-finding missions. We’re asking mayors and city managers in communities around the Driftless Region what makes their towns special and what are the biggest challenges. And then we’re all going to learn more, see how we can further enjoy the area, and how we can help with some of the issues right in our backyards.

This spring Inspire(d) kicks it off with Postville. It’s a big one. I grew up on a gravel road between Decorah and Postville – I went to school in Postville, and I had a happy time growing up there – cheerleading, marching band, theatre, chorus, student council – I was involved in nearly everything.

When I was in high school, diversity wasn’t something I thought a lot about. It was just starting to happen in Postville, though, with a handful of Russian and Ukrainian students filtering through the halls and a decent number of Mexican and Guatemalans starting to call Postville home. Jewish people were building their sukkahs in the fall and I had friends who worked at the local Jewish deli (now defunct). It was all very novel, to be honest.

Now, Postville Schools clock in at 52 percent minorities. But the special thing about this place is that the diversity isn’t driving a wedge between the students; it’s making them closer. Postville Community School’s best attribute? Diversity. And you can bet I love that.

Check out this story to read more about what’s happening in this neighbor community these days, and what makes the students and faculty of Postville Schools pretty darn amazing.

This little map graphic is a rough estimate of the Inspire(d) readership area. Have you been to all the places here? Do you know anything about the people who live here? I’ll tell you something: We are a kind lot of Midwesterners. I am so happy and lucky to call the Driftless home. Thanks for reading, friends.

Looking forward,


So what exactly are we trying to do here? Here are a few things that go through our minds as we put each Inspire(d) together – we want to inspire our readers in a variety of ways. Readers, heretofore, will be referred to as “you”. (ha!)

We want you to put down the phone and pick up some paper.

We want you to make things with that paper.

We want to you make things. Period.

We want you to go analog some days.

We want you to adventure around our region we call home.

We want you to do something great.

We want you to do something good. Every day.

We want you to cook more.

We want you to support local businesses.

We want you to play with your kids more.

We want YOU to play more.

We want you to take in the beauty and life in nature surrounding us every. minute.

We want you to believe in yourself.

We want you to believe in other people.

We want you to know that there is beauty in everything. Every. Thing. Even those dandelions. Even in the colors that come together in that pile of trash. Even in that (what seems to be) 800th cloudy, cold winter day.

We want you to talk to people. Really talk.

We want you to be kind.

We want you to feel like a unicorn.

We want you to be inspired.

Unicorn Pinata

Remember when we made a unicorn piñata?!? Totally epic.

Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation


Photo: Chimney Rock lookout – Courtesy of INHF.

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability,
and beauty of the biotic community.” -Aldo Leopold


By Benji Nichols • Originally published in the Spring 2013 Inspire(d)

Fact: More than 90 percent of Iowa is farm acreage. Not surprising? How about this: Fact: Iowa has more native orchid species than Hawaii. Its true! Rare geologic features and natural diversity – like Iowa’s 32 species of native orchids – exist from the Loess Hills to the Driftless Region. Historic Iowa conservationists like John F. Lacey, Ding Darling, Aldo Leopold, and Ada Hayden have worked hard to keep them alive and present in our region. But with just 10 percent of Iowa land not involved in agriculture, how can we possibly protect these amazing assets?

Thankfully, organizations like the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation have stepped in, shouldering the work of early conservationists by preserving both land and resources in Iowa, as well as the access and use of them.

“The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation works diligently to protect the absolute natural treasures we have in our state and preserves them for tomorrow’s generations,” says Northeast Iowa native and long time INHF board member Kirsten Heine. “This includes remnant goat prairies high above on the Mississippi River bluffs, prairie pot holes in western Iowa, majestic oak savannahs, algific slopes that are home to some of our state’s unique flora and fauna, and in our own neighborhood the beautiful Upper Iowa River. These landscapes tell our ‘Iowa story’ and enhance the overall quality of life.”

Fact: The INHF, as a private not-for-profit group, has secured over 130,000 acres of natural resources in the state.


Photo: Chimney Rock Lookout – Courtesy INHF

Since the early 1900s, people like Iowa Congressman John F. Lacey have worked to implement conservation legislation to preserve wild places – a method that has been built upon and improved by many. But few have accomplished large, permanent preservation like INHF.

“I see firsthand the tremendous efforts of natural resource protection by INHF,” says Terry Haindfield, a Wildlife Biologist with the Upper Iowa Unit of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Their ability to see the future with and without safeguarding the environmental treasures in Northeast Iowa inspires them to not only protect quality of life experiences for the present but maybe more importantly the forthcoming generations. Their efforts will be admired forever.”

The state of Iowa has come into a fascinating place in time, agriculture, property value, and land use. Despite being one of the most prosperous places to grow corn and soybeans, older farm owners are retiring, while young farm families are stretched to keep up with land values and crop prices. With 65 percent of farmland owned by folks 60 years and older, many young farmers are cornered into pushing conservation aside in the name of higher yields and more tillable land. As agriculture in Iowa experiences these transitions, INHF becomes even more important. They work to permanently protect unique land and resources, and improve land management and bring new conservation ideas and opportunities to the state – all while respecting Iowa’s agricultural heritage.

The entire concept of INHF – preserve natural resources permanently – may seem a little too big and audacious to grasp… until you realize you’ve almost certainly seen or experienced the work of INHF firsthand.

inhfweb“For over 30 years, INHF has been working closely with private landowners and public agencies to protect and restore some of the most scenic and ecologically diverse natural areas in Iowa,” says Brian Fankhauser, INHF Blufflands Program Manager. “For example, protection of a critical segment of South Pine Creek in Winneshiek County that supports the native strain of brook trout, and a 1,000-acre addition to Effigy Mounds National Monument are two of several significant projects INHF has helped complete in recent years for the Blufflands (i.e. Driftless) Region.”

Countless statewide projects range from coordinating large-scale land set-asides to invasive species management like pulling sweet clover or wild parsnip from remnant hill prairies to forestry projects like thinning oak woodlands for regeneration. Summer interns tackle hands-on tasks such as collecting prairie seed that will be used for future restoration projects, constructing fire lines for future woodland prescribed fires, and restoring cold-water trout streams.


Photo: Trout Run Trail – Decorah, by Benji Nichols

Fact: Over the past 30 years, INHF has helped partners create nearly 600 of Iowa’s 1,000 miles of rail-trails.

The ability of an organization like INHF to accomplish such vast goals is in no small part due to exceptional leadership. Longtime (now past) INHF president Mark Ackelson is one of the most well known faces in Iowa preservation in recent decades. One of the many areas near and dear to Ackelson is the work of coordinating, guiding the building of, and promoting the use of hundreds of miles of recreational trail systems. INHF has helped launch such trail projects as the High Trestle Trail, Wabash Trace Nature Trail, Rolling Prairie Trail, to name just a few. The technical expertise and statewide perspective that INHF brings to trail-building projects is one of the driving factors in Iowa’s effort to be known far-and-wide for its trails. It is well worth the time to visit just to see their fantastic interactive map of current trails and trail projects in the state, as well as their “Iowa By Trail” App.

But at its core, the long, steady view of INHF has been to work with private landowners and agencies to permanently conserve land for future generations. Each and every project is different, with the tools and knowledge of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation helping landowners find the right options ranging from easements to donations or sales, to best practices for sustainable land management. It was the great conservationist Aldo Leopold who said, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.” Whether it’s a family donating a piece of land for public use, or a group navigating the intergovernmental agencies involved in making sure over 1,000 acres surrounding Effigy Mounds will never be developed, the work of an organization like the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is truly never finished. But when the list of projects accomplished looks as long and beautiful as the list of Iowa’s wild orchids, it’s easy to feel like things are headed in the right direction.


Find out more about the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and these great projects at, or by contacting them in Des Moines at: 515-288-1846 or And you don’t have to be landowner to support the INHF mission: Memberships are as little as $25 per year and include a quarterly subscription to the stunning INHF Magazine.


BluffAbout The Author
Through high school, Benji lived with his parents amidst 165 acres of woods and blufflands just above the Upper Iowa River north of Decorah. This property, owned by the Sollien family, was put into a Forest Legacy Program easement in 2005 with the help of INHF. As part of over 2.3 million acres protected nationwide, it will never be anything but trees, bluffs, and wild land. Amen.