Mar 4, 2022 - Politics

Iowa bill could stifle new trails and parks

High Trestle Trail
Cyclists make their way during the annual Pigtails ride along the High Trestle trail on May 22, 2021, in Madrid, Iowa. Photo: Brian Powers/The Register via Imagn Content Services

Conservationists are warning that a bill going through the Iowa Legislature could stifle public entities' efforts to build bike trails, protect waterways and open new parks.

Driving the news: Senate File 2312 caps how much county conservation boards and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources are allowed to spend to acquire public land.

  • The bill was originally proposed back in 2019, but died.

Between the lines: The spending cap is under market value — meaning property owners who want to sell may feel less inclined to accept offers from conservationists.

State of play: The ability to buy land from willing sellers is important in a fast-growing metro like Des Moines, said Rich Leopold, executive director of Polk County Conservation.

  • Conserving land can help with everything from flood retention to new parks to the latest ICON project.

In the last decade, Leopold said the county has acquired 3,000 acres of land from private owners, but they're most often the "bad" areas of the property, like creek beds and wetlands.

  • A recent example is Fourmile Creek, a former residential area in a major flood plain, which is being restored to its natural habitat.

What they're saying: Iowa Farm Bureau Federation is the only lobbyist in favor of the bill. No one representing the federation responded to requests for comment.

  • Sen. Mike Klimesh (R-Spillville), who spoke at a subcommittee meeting in February, said the bill addresses the "rights" of an Iowa citizen who wants to purchase land, but has to compete against organizations with deeper pockets, ICD reports.

What's next: The bill awaits Senate floor debate.

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