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Des Moines Register. March 27, 2020

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OPINION

You don't need to practice social distancing from Mother Nature: Enjoy Iowa's parks — and pass a tax to fund them

The Register's editorial Published 6:00 a.m. CT March 27, 2020

Editorial: Iowa lawmakers should mark the 100th anniversary of our state parks by finally funding the conservation trust as voters intended

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“Our parks and preserves serve as living museums and windows into the past, informing us of what Iowa once was and how it worked. … They invite us to ask where we Iowans are going, and then they show us how we might get there.” — From the new book “Iowa State Parks: A Century of Stewardship,1920-2020”

The outdoors have never been more appealing.

Iowans are advised to avoid crowds. We are worried about the health of ourselves and loved ones. We may feel isolated, lonely and trapped inside.

But no one needs to practice social distancing with Mother Nature.

So it is a welcome time for Iowa to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its state park system and the foresight of those who established these spaces. It is also a good time to visit our parks.

That’s exactly what you’ll want to do if you get your hands on a copy of the new book “Iowa State Parks: A Century of Stewardship, 1920-2020.”

Available online and in local bookstores, the book is more than a guide to Iowa’s dozens of parks, recreation areas, preserves and forests. It contains essays, history and photographs that capture the beauty of our green spaces and wildlife.

That history includes the 1917 State Park Act, which authorized a process to establish public parks and gave the governor the ability to appoint a State Board of Conservation. The following year the board was granted authority to establish state parks.

The first two — Backbone State Park and Lacey-Keosauqua State Park — were dedicated in 1920. The board went on to acquire more land and secure funding as public demand for parks grew, fueled in part by the growth of automobile tourism.

Then came the Great Depression and a federal investment in public lands. Work programs aided the construction of at least a thousand structures in Iowa parks, including lodges, campgrounds and artificial lakes.

In 1946, 1.5 million people visited our state parks, a figure that rose to nearly 7 million in 1960.

Iowa families that could not afford big vacation made free use of the parks. Mom would pack a picnic lunch, and the family would spend the day at Pine Lake or Rock Creek. Kids would swim, play tag and roam.

The parks were one of the best things Iowa ever did for families. And families are still using them.

Conservation and recreation lands in this state now draw more than 15 million day-use visitors annually. An additional 1 million stay overnight in campgrounds, cabins and other facilities.

But the intrepid enthusiasm about growing and preserving them has waned in the past several decades. Some of the lakes kids once enjoyed are now too polluted for swimming. Of the 71 dedicated state parks in Iowa, only two have been created in the past 20 years.

Elinor Bedell State Park on West Lake Okaboji was made possible by a generous donation of land in 2001. Banner Lakes at Summerset near Des Moines was a designated wildlife area until 2004.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is working with several partners to celebrate the centennial, and events, including a classic car tour of parks, are being planned.

The Iowa Legislature should mark the anniversary by finally raising the sales tax a penny and devoting three-eighths of each cent to fund a conservation and recreation trust fund overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2010.

Year after year, lawmakers have failed to provide this dedicated source of revenue to the outdoors. Of the numerous states that have similarly used constitutional amendments, Iowa is the only one that has never deposited a penny.

When raising the tax, lawmakers also should ensure that the fraction of each cent “shall supplement and not replace” other conservation funding, exactly as current Iowa Code states and voters intended.

Iowa could generate an estimated $180 million new dollars to fund conservation, improve water quality, build trails and invest in our state parks.

We need these precious outdoor spaces more than ever.

Share your state park memories

Editorial board member Richard Doak mentioned to the board recently that the state parks figure into a surprising number of his childhood memories.

"This would be in the late 1940s and 1950s. Our family couldn’t afford big vacations, but made frequent use of the state parks. Mom would pack a picnic lunch (I remember fried chicken) and we would take off to spend the day at Pine Lake or Lake Ahquabi. We were pleased when a new park (Rock Creek) was created near Newton so we didn’t have to drive far. We would swim in lakes, and it was all free, one of the best things Iowa ever did for its ordinary people like us."

We invite other Iowans to share their memories of Iowa's parks. Please send them to letters@dmreg.com.

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The Cedar Falls Courier. March 22, 2020

We’re all in this together amid coronavirus threat

Gov. Kim Reynolds did the right thing Tuesday issuing an emergency proclamation closing numerous gathering places from dine-in restaurants to recreation facilities because of the coronavirus.

The directive in effect through March 31 undoubtedly will be extended. The Centers for Disease Control recommended “social distancing” for at least eight weeks.

Iowa had 38 cases by midweek, including an 81-year-old Black Hawk County resident.

“These are unprecedented times, and the state of Iowa will do whatever is necessary to address this public health disaster,” Reynolds stated.

This plague is unprecedented in our time, but the 1918 Spanish flu shows the need for social distancing.

The federal government was promoting Liberty Loan bonds at parades to cover World War I expenses. Two were scheduled that September in Philadelphia and St. Louis.

Philadelphia had no cases of civilians contracting the flu, but soldiers and sailors at nearby military installations were dying from it. Instead of canceling the Sept. 28 event, 200,000 watched the floats and John Philip Souza conducted marching bands.

More than 2,600 died within a week when city officials finally announced a lockdown. The eventual toll was 12,000.

In St. Louis, which previously canceled the parade, 700 died.

The U.S. was late to this game, but is now ramping up. President Donald Trump falsely compared COVID-19 to the flu and claimed it was “totally under control.” His acolytes at Fox News called it a “Democratic hoax.”

The CDC, though, stated COVID-19 was unlike the flu because it was so contagious.

Its worst-case scenario was 160 million and 210 million contracting COVID-19 within a year and deaths ranging from 200,000 to 1.7 million. The 21 million possibly needing hospitalization would overwhelm the nation’s 925,000 hospital beds.

Trump and Fox News changed their tunes last week after commentator Tucker Carlson personally implored the president to do something. He complained on air, “None of our leaders helped us to take it seriously. … People you trust, people you probably voted for, have spent weeks minimizing what is clearly a very serious problem. … That’s their position. … But they’re wrong.”

Valuable time was lost, compounded by the CDC botching initial tests.

South Korea took immediate action on testing and lowered the incidence of COVID-19. It tested 5,200 people per million, compared to 74 per million in the U.S. by this week.

Italy didn’t take it seriously and had 3,405 by Thursday, now surpassing China’s death toll of 3,245. Lombardy regional newspapers had printed two-to-three pages of obituaries daily, but were now running 13. Because protective gear was lacking, 12% of health professionals contracted the disease, imperiling efforts.

Testing finally ramped up with universities and public health agencies involved. But Trump’s promise that everyone needing a test would get one was hampered by a shortage of testing compounds mainly available from France and Italy.

As the Courier reported, area residents with symptoms resembling COVID-19 were denied tests due to narrow criteria. Iowa also had limited tests available.

By Thursday, the U.S. exceeded 7,000 cases with 121 deaths, including three in a New Jersey family.

With one in five Americans losing their jobs, the economic toll was devastating.

Proving that it can be bipartisan during a crisis, Congress approved legislation to expand Medicaid, unemployment benefits and free COVID-19 testing. Its compromise mandating paid sick leave and child care benefits covered those quarantined with COVID-19 and their caregivers, but exempted businesses with more than 500 or fewer than 50 employees, hospitals, nursing homes and the self-employed.

Rep. Steven King, R-Iowa, opposed it.

Congress also was debating a White House package surpassing $1 trillion package to assist beleaguered industries.

Democrats took issue with a $50 billion package for the four major airlines, each with profits exceeding $1 billion and money generated by the Trump tax cut used to buy shares from stockholders rather than improve employee pay or build reserves. Democrats wanted relief aid to primarily benefit workers, as it should.

Sen. Mitt Romney proposed a $1,000 check to Americans. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., raised it to $2,000, which the White House adopted.

Trump proactively enlisted U.S. Navy hospital ships and released military hospital supplies. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proposed using the Defense Production Act to have private companies produce more ventilators and masks, while hospitals needed costs defrayed to actually buy them for a specific event.

Residents can do their part by donating to agencies such as the Northeast Iowa Food Bank and Salvation Army, suddenly facing a more pronounced mission.

As the Courier reported, restaurants closed for dining were imploring residents to take out. Help them out. Their survival may depend on it.

We also like a recommendation that anyone delaying an intended purchase should buy a gift certificate now to assist beleaguered merchants immediately.

We’re all in this together.

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The (Fort Dodge) Messenger. March 24, 2020

Help celebrate National Ag Day

It recognizes the many contributions of American agriculture.

After an at times trying winter, spring is about to arrive.

As another growing season approaches, today has been set as National Ag Day by the Agriculture Council of America. The council designates the week within which it falls as National Ag Week. This important time to celebrate agriculture runs through Saturday.

One goal of Ag Day is to recognize the contribution agriculture makes in the lives of all of us. The council sponsors and encourages programs during Ag Week that help Americans understand:

• How food and fiber products are produced,

• The essential role of agriculture in the economy, and

• The role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products.

While it seems unlikely that many Iowans need to be reminded that agriculture is vital to this state, this is a good time to recall just how impressive American agriculture truly has become.

According to the ACA, each of this country’s farmers feeds more than 144 people – up from 25 people just four decades ago. That’s very good news for Americans, but also for hungry people everywhere.

This country produces far more agricultural products than Americans can consume. The resulting exports help offset trade deficits in other areas of the economy. In fact, agricultural products are this country’s No. 1 export. One in three U.S. farm acres is planted for export.

The agricultural sector in the United States has become incredibly efficient at producing a wide array of products. Americans spend less on food than people in any other developed nation. The ACA says we Americans spend only 2 percent of our disposable income on meat and poultry. As recently as 1970, it was 4.1 percent.

With the planet’s population projected to grow to 7.5 billion, people everywhere have good reason to give thanks for the magnificent success story that is American agriculture.

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