Iowa Conservation Team Celebrates 10 Years at RAGBRAI
July's 40th RAGBRAI wasn't the only milestone celebration for the annual bicycle ride across Iowa. For the past 10 years, the Iowa Conservation Team has set up a tent site each day along the RAGBRAI route, providing riders with a place to refill water bottles, send conservation-themed postcards and enjoy free bananas while taking a break from the heat.
The Iowa Conservation Team is a partnership between the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), the Iowa Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS) and the Conservation District of Iowa (CDI).
The Iowa Conservation Tent site has become a daily destination for thousands of riders. Duane Miller, a retired NRCS employee, has volunteered at the tent site most years and participated as a RAGBRAI rider. "With 10,000 or more bike riders from all over the United States and many foreign countries riding through Iowa's rural countryside, it is the perfect backdrop to get the conservation message out," said Miller. "The riders can see and look for the practices that NRCS and conservationists are promoting. Where else can you have an audience this large on a daily basis for a whole week?"
Over the past decade the Iowa Conservation team has:
Stamped and mailed about 40,000 conservation-themed postcards to people all over the world.
Given out about 100,000 bananas.
Provided about 30,000 gallons of drinking water.
Set up their site at 60 different rural homes.
Talked and displayed information about Iowa conservation practices to thousands of riders from all over the world.
The partnership began in 2003 as an outreach project to educate riders about conservation and Iowa agriculture. Laura Crowell, Iowa NRCS state public affairs specialist, says the Iowa Conservation Team has increased awareness of conservation efforts in Iowa and the organizations that help to accomplish those efforts.
In addition to the tent site during RAGBRAI, permanent signs have been placed along Iowa's roadways to show conservation efforts in a particular area of the state. "Cyclists are surrounded by conservation efforts each day along the route, so RAGBRAI is the perfect setting to show the impact of conservation in Iowa," said Crowell.
The hard work of volunteers helps make this event a success each year. "It is always great to hear riders talk about how much they appreciate our presence and the work we do," said Miller. Most of the volunteers come from the local county conservation offices.
Finding just the right location for the daily tent site is high priority for the Iowa Conservation Team. In early spring, not long after the route is announced, team members take to the road looking for the right farm. "We are grateful to the homeowners for allowing us to take over their place on those days," said Miller, "but I think they believe in our message and enjoy the activity our site brings to their place."
Miller believes the Iowa Conservation Team has made an impact over the past 10 years. "I hope they can take away just a small message, such as the water they are drinking is affected by many farming practices and the conservation team is there to help protect the high quality drinking water we have," he said. "We also try to inform riders of farming and how it works since many of the riders are no longer closely associated with farming."
Iowa Conservation Team member Alan Lauver says donations help pay for bananas and postcard postage, and any extra goes to the Iowa SWCS Chapter to use for college scholarships in the areas of agriculture and environmental science.
Jason Johnson, Public Affairs Specialist, 515-323-2701