WEST BEND – From Ackley to Clermont, to Guttenberg and Hamburg to Lone Rock and Roland – he’s been everywhere man…at least in Iowa.
For the past five years, Dave Miglin of Des Moines has made it his goal to visit every incorporated town in Iowa.
Miglin, vice president of media and digital services at Strategic America in West Des Moines moved to Iowa in 2013 and it didn’t take him long to fall in love with his new home state.
“When I came to Iowa, I was totally in,” he said. “The first weekend I moved here, I went to Clear Lake and visited Buddy Holly’s crash site just out of curiosity. I was just sucked into all the things that were Iowa.”
Miglin had the opportunity to visit other major Iowa landmarks and tourist spots such as the Field of Dreams movie site near Dyersville. But he wanted more. He had heard of Sen. Chuck Grassley’s annual 99 county tour which was what led him to the thought of visiting every incorporated town in the state of Iowa.
He continued to ponder the idea, when on a drive back from Okoboji, in late summer of 2016, he made the decision he was going to do it. He and his traveling partner pulled over at the next town, which was Sioux Rapids and his quest had begun.
When he returned home from that first stop, he started doing some homework. He pulled the list of incorporated cities from the Secretary of State, and a plan was made.
“I created a map in which I literally pinpointed where I would go so when I am driving out and driving home I am taking a different route and seeing different cities along the way to maximize my trips,” he said adding most of his city tours were done on the weekends.
One interesting fact Miglin said is when he started, the state of Iowa had 955 incorporated cities. Most recently, that number is down to 942.
“It has gone down that much in just five years,” he said. “That’s what I got the most out of it. We are watching these small towns disappear. Truly disappear. In some cases they become ghost towns, others become unincorporated, but they still exist to some degree.”
Five years later, Miglin ended his tour in West Bend on July 16.
Miglin said he has traveled over 40,000 miles during his journeys across the state, which he said is the equivalent of driving from Boston to Los Angeles 13 ¢ times. Oftentimes he was joined by his wife, Karen Miglin or a group of travel companions.
When he makes a stop at a town, he is always sure to get a photo, but it goes beyond that photo opp. He tours the town, driving through neighborhoods and up and down streets to get the real feel for that particular city and mainly in hopes to be able to visit with someone.
“That is what I found most enjoyable,” he said. “Meeting people and learning about the communities whenever I could.”
Miglin holds a memory of each of the 942 towns he has visited, but some have stuck out in his mind.
Kalona, he said is a beautiful town with a thriving downtown business district; Alton near Orange City, he said is another town that really wants to make you go back to visit.
The city of Quasqueton in Buchanan County, he said was a town voted by Reader’s Digest as the hardest pronounced town in America.
Through his visits, he was often invited to sit down and visit with the locals. One instance, he was invited in to join a bridal shower. Another time, in Sharpsburg, Miglin and his wife ended up joining the city council meeting.
“When I told them what we were doing, they were so delighted, they literally had us sit down and eat with them,” he said. “They broke out year books from the 1920s and gave us the entire history of the town. It was wonderful.”
His visit to Rock Falls also is ingrained into his memory.
Miglin went to the local bar in town – an establishment that appeared he would not necessarily fit in.
“They were staring at me out the window. I walked in and everyone looks at me. I said I bet you’re wondering what I am doing here? I told them and they were thrilled,” he said. “We talked for over an hour. They bought me lunch and a beer.”
Miglin feels there are some great stories out there to be told.
“I love to get people to talk about themselves or talk about their town,” he said. “I got to learn what Iowa is really about. Why Iowa is special.”
Although Miglin’s initial goal was to just visit the cities, it has turned into much more for him.
“I got to go into these towns, from a marketer’s perspective and think what could we do to help this community out? What can we do to revive a community,” he said. “That is why I ended in West Bend at the Grotto of the Redemption. What a great place to take my last picture. It wraps up, what I think it is about redeeming small town America.”
Miglin has considered using his insight from his visits, to see what could be available in funding through grants for some of these cities that may be struggling.
“I am not saying you can save every one of them. There are small towns doing great things,” he said. “If only a city had somebody that could help them see that they would be able to turn the town around. Maybe not to its glory days, but still help it live for another 50 years.”
Manning is a city that he said is a perfect example.
“They took advantage of federal grant dollars. They repaved their streets, redid their store fronts and a made a nice, attractive sign,” he said. “You will see communities that are really fighting to keep alive.”
Hit the road
Miglin said he would like to see more people getting out on the road, driving for a few hours to a beautiful spot in Iowa and support that city.
“I really want people to see Iowa. Iowa is a gorgeous state,” he said adding that what truly makes Iowa beautiful is more than the scenery, however.
“People are what Iowa nice is. Iowa nice is more than just landscape,” he said.