An Iowa Great Place

Boone Forks Region receives special designation — again

-Submitted photo
The Boone Forks Region will be amping up marketing efforts to increase recognition of what’s in central Iowa’s own backyard, in turn strengthening conservation awareness efforts.

The Boone Forks Region has been re-designated as an Iowa Great Place this year, recognizing the three-county region it encompasses for its breathtaking views, natural escapes and recreational opportunities.

First designated in 2010, the region has since expanded, adding Boone County to the fold with Webster and Hamilton counties’ efforts to recognize the area.

“The mission of the Boone Forks Regional Plan is to collaborate across political and geographic boundaries for effective connection and integration of arts, heritage, nature, community and economic vitality,” said Matt Cosgrove, director of Webster County Conservation.

Designation in the Iowa Great Places program, housed under the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, affords privileges and sources of funding to help communities promote places that embody enhancement of local vitality and quality of life.

The program, which began in 2005, has recognized 41 communities to date under the program. As it turns out, Iowa’s fields of opportunity are proving to be a driver of tourism across the state.

-Submitted photo
The three-county Boone Forks Region, re-designated this year as an Iowa Great Place, offers a wide variety of state and world-renowned recreational opportunities along the Des Moines River and Boone River corridors.

Cosgrove said previous funding, including at least one grant of $90,000, helped provide wayfinding signage throughout the parks and gateway entrances in various areas. The average grant award under the program, from 2015 to 2019, was about $260,000.

Now, the tri-county group is meeting monthly, with an eye for enhanced marketing, to get the word out about the world-renowned beauty right here at home.

With budget-friendly vacations available close to home with options like native cabins, the conservation director said educating people on what they can enjoy will make a big difference in the region’s mission.

“It’s getting people to recognize its value, that there’s things to do in your own backyard,” he said, including the High Trestle Trail, Brushy Creek’s equestrian areas and Gypsum City, the state’s largest off-highway vehicle park.

“There are a lot of recreational opportunities up and down the river corridor,” said Cosgrove.

And when people enjoy the natural places closer to home, it plays into a larger mission of instilling care for the environment.

“We want people to use and understand the value of environmental stewardship that comes with those resources,” said the director. “It’s hard to protect something you don’t know much about.”

Since interest dictates a large part of the forces that influence environmental conservation, the three-county partnership is enlisting help from senior marketing students at the University of Northern Iowa, who will be putting together a campaign and website to get the word out.

The Fort Dodge Convention and Visitors Bureau will also provide assistance in coordinating efforts with meetings and followup work.

“It’s a challenge with this many entities working on a project and coordinating that effort on a large scale,” Cosgrove said. “We’ve all got our own missions and budgets, so we’re weaving that into a bigger piece of the puzzle.”

Future themes will likely expound on the valuable river corridors for marketing and application purposes with the hope that necessary funding for the program, appropriated through the Iowa state legislature, stays intact.

“We look forward to our continued partnership with the program as we further our mission to promote, protect and celebrate the scenic river valleys of the Des Moines and Boone rivers,” he said.