Written by Carmen Finken, Sustainable Schools AmeriCorps Program Manager with the UNI Center for Energy and Environmental Education
The Land & Water Stewards AmeriCorps members are excited to be launching a brand new, locally-led, volunteer water monitoring program for Black Hawk County, primarily the Cedar Valley area. The program was created in response to Iowa DNR’s loss of funding for the IOWATER program. Land and Water Stewards (LWS), in partnership with the Black Hawk Soil and Water Conservation District, will coordinate and host several training and monitoring events. Local volunteers will be able to check-out testing equipment and test any body of water they would like, as long as field data is recorded. LWS members will supplement volunteer data with data from specific water bodies that are impaired, have been neglected, or have been identified by LWS and program partners as areas of concern. All field data will be made public and will also be reported to the proper agencies who make decisions regarding water quality. We have already received over $1,000 in donations and will be officially kicking-off the program at the Dry Run Creek showcase event on April 28th, 2018.
LWS will also be hosting several events as part of a Trail Series on UNI’s campus trails. We have coordinated with four student organizations and five campus departments in an effort to make UNI’s outdoor spaces more accessible to the student body and community members. The goal is also to raise awareness of these outdoor spaces and to get students actively engaged in nature. The Trail Series will consist of a “Tails on Trails” event, where students can walk shelter dogs along the trails; “Go Fly a Kite” event, where students can fly a kite on a university-owned nature reserve; and “Panther Paths”, a candle-lit walk along the trails to raise awareness of the positive connection between nature and improving mental health.
We have also been collaborating with businesses on Main Street and College Hill for what we are calling a Rain Barrel Art Project. Fifty stores have been recruited to sponsor a rain barrel. Sponsorship does not cost the store anything, and they will be participating by either painting their barrel and/or allowing the locally painted barrel to sit out in front of their store for one week while it is bid on. The highest bidder of each rain barrel will be taking it home. LWS will then go to each home and ensure that the rain barrel is installed and in-use. The barrels will be painted by local artists of all ages during two community events on June 7th and 9th. Both events coincide with farmers markets; the Cedar Falls Farmers Market and the College Hill Farmers Market. We have also been taking the lead on a project in Cedar Rapids that allowed homeowners to apply to have a free design and install of a rain garden in conjunction with the City of Cedar Rapids cost-share program. We are just about to start site evaluations to narrow it down to 12 houses for a June install and 12 houses for a fall install.
The work of LWS has been truly exciting! To date, LWS has either participated in, planned, or helped coordinate 59 outreach events, with a total of 646 member hours, 111 outside volunteers, and 261.5 outside volunteer hours.
AmeriCorps members are really making a difference in our communities we serve!
If you are interested in learning more about the LWS program and other initiatives through the Center for Energy & Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa, visit: https://ceee.uni.edu/