What Makes a Town Tripworthy?

[imgbelt img=bellevueoverview530.jpg]Residents in and around Bellevue, Iowa, confer on how their region
can become a year-round tourist destination. The bald eagles have
already discovered Bellevue.

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Jimmy Emerson

Dyas Hexagonal Barn, built 1921, south of Bellevue, Iowa, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On a morning in late January, the sun crested the limestone bluffs lining the mostly frozen Mississippi River east of Bellevue, Iowa. A patch of water below Lock and Dam 12 was still open, and dozens of bald eagles swooped and pivoted on black wingtips to snag bait fish. In a restaurant/art gallery across the street from the river, several dozen people sat at large round tables eating pastries prepared from local ingredients. Among the group were local agriculture producers, tourism boosters, and high school students representing groups such as 4-H and FFA. They’d come together to ponder ways to bottle their way of life and package it for visitors. They were pondering agri-tourism.

Planning sessions like this one in Bellevue happen routinely around the country as small towns in rural areas struggle to keep their economic heads above water. This is not a news flash. But in Bellevue, the local chamber brought in sponsors and other supporters to fund a day-long event. They brought in Marsha Laux, a program coordinator of the Value Added Agriculture unit and the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, affiliated with Iowa State University Extension.

Laux told her personal story, about running a successful farming operation with her husband in the early 1980s, raising hogs, planting corn, and “doing very well.” Then the farm crisis hit, and she and her husband lost everything. Eventually she found herself working a “job in town” and now coaches people to make farming practices safe and successful. On this day, Laux was in Bellevue to help people figure out how do to more than simply produce food and offer tourism opportunities. She was there to illustrate how to link the two and increase revenues for everyone.

Webcentric

A bald eagle snags a catch out of the river near Lock and Dam No. 12 outside Bellevue, Iowa.

And in the winter, through no effort of our own, those bald eagles come to town to fill their bellies. Between fishing binges they rest on the bare trees, their white heads and tails like luminescent bowling pins in the branches. They land on chunks of river ice that circulate like merry-go-rounds in the eddies just below the dam. They call to each other with soft multi-note whistles. I never knew they made that sound until I sat on one of Bellevue’s water-front facing benches and listened. Access to the natural world, even the heavily cultivated natural world of an Iowa farm, is something we can offer to visitors. How could they refuse?

Julianne Couch’s latest travelogue, Traveling the Power Line: From the Mojave Desert to the Bay of Fundy, will be available in spring 2013 from the University of Nebraska Press.

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