Highway corridors are not often known for their beauty.
But some people in the Iowa Great Lakes are working to change that.
The Imagine Iowa Great Lakes beautification project came together with a vision to help make the Lakes even more beautiful along the Highway 71 corridor.
Their goals are “improving the visual quality, environment and safety; strengthening the connection to the Lakes; enhancing the natural environment; and introducing elements and themes that evoke the spirit of the Iowa Great Lakes region.”
“There was a strong desire to make the Lakes region even more beautiful than it even is already,” said Bethany Wilcoxon, the project manager with McClure, who is overseeing the Imagine Iowa Great Lakes projects. “What has unfolded is the creation of a master plan in the Highway 71 corridor and other places off the corridor. It’s a multiyear initiative to bring nature back to the corridor, enhance safety in the area and really just build that connection to the Lakes.”
Imagine Iowa Great Lakes is privately funded and their first big project was just recently completed.
The Promenade in Arnolds Park is first in a list of strategic projects to help bring about the group’s vision.
Due to the inclement spring weather, The Promenade project got off to a later than scheduled start this year, but it was officially completed with a ribbon cutting on July 2.
The Promenade is anchored on one end near the downtown business section of Arnold Park on West Broadway Street and provides a beautiful walkway and bike trail to the heart of Arnolds Park Amusement Park.
The project included creating a new walkway as well as adding a number of arches and 250 light fixtures that can be programmed. A large number of native plants and flowers were put in as well. According to Wilcoxon, they planted 47,000 plants in total.
“Everyone on the team is just thrilled to have the entire community including visitors experience the projects for themselves as we get them completed,” Wilcoxon said. “With the light fixtures and the arches, The Promenade is beautiful and it’s just been really exciting for the whole team. It has set the bar and expectations for what’s to come down the line.”
Other projects on the horizon include three that will happen in the coming months.
The Nature Center Connection will revitalize the trail near the Dickinson County Nature Center by Rabab’s and farther along Highway 71.
“We will be planting a number of perennial plants that can be enjoyed for many years in to the future by both pedestrians and vehicles along the route,” Wilcoxon said.
They have plans to include a variety of plants that will bloom from spring through fall in a number of colors to make the section more beautiful.
They will also be tackling Bridge Park where East and West Lake Okoboji meet.
“Part of what we will be doing there includes opening up the view to East Okoboji as there is some overgrowth so you can’t see the lake,” Wilcoxon said. “We’ll also be adding some different grasses and perennials
The third project along
Highway 71 that they will be tackling later this year is Okoboji Park, which is a city-owned park located across from the Kum & Go.
“We’ll be doing some shoreline cleanup to help maximize those views as well as adding space for families to enjoy picnics and potentially a play area for children. We are in the early design stages for that,” Wilcoxon said. “We are trying to make sure that it’s a place where friends and family can gather to make memories.”
Those three projects are slated to be completed by the end of the year.
Another project that will be started this fall but will most likely be completed in the spring of 2020 is the Lakefront wooden boardwalk that is adjacent to the lake in Arnolds Park Amusement Park.
“We’ve been working closely with the Iowa DNR on the sea wall issue as they are going to be doing repairs to the sea wall,” Wilcoxon said. “We’ve been working with them so that the beautification process can start immediately after that is done later this year.”
The Imagine Iowa Great Lakes plan will impact a number of different communities throughout the Iowa Great Lakes, and seeing all the communities coming together to make something beautiful is what Wilcoxon has enjoyed the most about this whole process.
“My background is as a city planner, so I am most excited about seeing all these communities coming together and working toward something that will benefit their communities for a long time to come. This whole project touches a number of areas through the region and every community is a part of this,” Wilcoxon said. “Bringing the community together and trying to enhance that collaboratively has been really satisfying.”