CENTRAL CITY, Iowa-A statewide group promoting Iowa's rivers and streams honored Central City as the small Iowa "River Town of the Year" on Monday. And members of Iowa Rivers Revival said the recognition came because that Linn County community has learned to embrace the Wapsipinicon River instead of fight it.
At an awards ceremony, community leaders admitted the river was either an afterthought or nuisance for many years. The most recent significant flooding occurred in 1999 with a dozen or more homes sustaining major damage. But things changed after that.
The community, along with FEMA, bought out the properties most at risk and created green space and parks along the riverbank. Bob Brammer, a member of the Iowa Rivers Revival board, told residents they were an example of what a river community, of any size, can do with a little forethought and effort.
"This is a town of what, 1,257 people, and they are getting an amazing amount of work done," Brammer said.
In addition to buyouts to prevent future flooding, Central City created a hiking and biking trail that hugs the Wapsipinicon River and stretches from the town to the nearby Pinicon Ridge County Park. The trail was just finished last fall and in nicer weather draws lots of people. Eventually, the trail will be extended to loop through town and connect other parts of the community with the county's largest park.
Central City Mayor Don Gray said tying the park and town closely together should be good for business.
"That's part of what we want to do this springpublicize (the trail) so we can draw people in. I think once people are up there camping, they'll wonder where the trail goes and end up coming to Central City, " Gray said.
Jason Levenhagen, a city council member and original trail advocate, said there are even more ambitious plans on the drawing boardplans that helped earn the statewide recognition as Iowa's top small river town. Those plans include more riverside parks, a bandstand, gazebo and more.
"Realistically, I didn't think we'd get this much doneso anything we put our minds to we can accomplish," Levenhagen said.
Members of the Iowa Rivers Revival group, created six years ago, told the community it might seem a little odd to recognize river towns in the middle of winter when recreation on and around the river is at a low point. But Brammer said now is when lawmakers are in session. And it's a good time to show them what communities can do with rivers given a little encouragement and financial help.
The group plans to name this year's top large river town later this month.