Planning for the Golden Hills RC&D was started in 1978 at the suggestion of Ernie Aust, Area Conservationist. The Golden Hills RC&D, Inc. opened their office in Oakland, Iowa in August, 1981 with Richard Bolli as Coordinator. Bob Smith of Sidney, Iowa was a member of the organizing committee to help start his RC&D in southwestern Iowa. Bob continued to be very active and was Secretary of the Golden Hills Executive Board from 1990 to 2013.
The Golden Hills RC&D area is comprised of Cass, Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Montgomery, Page, East Pottawattamie, West Pottawattamie, and Shelby counties and Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
Coordinators have been: Richard Bolli - August 1981 to October, 1988; Martin Adkins - November, 1988 to September, 1993; Martin Braster - October, 1993 to May, 1997; Shirley Frederiksen May 12, 1997 to April 2011; Liz Birkel-Leddy through April 2011 to 2013; Michelle Wodtke Franks 2014 to 2022, and Cara Marker-Morgan 2022-present.
In the 1980s most of the projects related to diversification of crops and critical area treatment projects. In 1989, the RC&D Council re-examined its mission, and developed new goals aimed at:
developing businesses based on the area's natural, cultural and other resources;
working with local governments on projects to benefit the environment;
filling gaps in services to people at risk;
improving water quantity and quality.
This resulted in a growth and diversification of project activity. Projects dealt with a variety of issues, including rural water system development, tourism, small business and local economic development, diversified agriculture, human services referral, and protection of the Loess Hills landscape. These projects also worked to develop local leadership capacity, as hundreds of volunteers provided direction and their own resources to make project concepts become reality. One example of these efforts in the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway. This project was done in cooperation with seven counties in western Iowa. Scenic byway routes have been established with byway signs and a map/guidebook for traveler's use. This guidebook has been printed four times and has become a very useful tool for the scenic byway. With this project new ideas for improving the byway are being developed with additional signage and interpretive panels. Two awards have been received by Golden Hills RC&D in connection with this project: (1) North Central Association of RC&D's in January, 1993 for Outstanding Measure Award; and (2) National Endowment for the Arts, Presidential Design Award for the Federal Design Achievement Award in 1995.
The Hungry Canyons Alliance is another successful project which deals with stream channel erosion control. This project includes 22 counties in the deep loess region of western Iowa. This initiative has united local government and other leaders to cooperatively plan, fund, and implement channel stabilization projects. In 1996 the Hungry Canyons Alliance received a Merit Award from the Soil and Water Conservation Society.
Past Projects and Achievements
This is just a sampling of some of the projects we've successfully completed since 1981.
Coordinated the award-winning watershed plan for the East & West Nishnabotna rivers.
Construction of new office space using “Green” Building Sustainable Design Principles as public education and outreach
Leadership in the Iowa Byways Sustainability program, with management of the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway and the Western Skies Scenic Byway
Support of a Local Foods Coordinator and regional food systems working group for Southwest Iowa
Development of a 10+-year multi-phase Prairie Restoration and Stewardship Initiative for the Loess Hills region of western Iowa, with partner agencies and landowners
Cultural Resources Study for the Loess Hills to inventory the archaeological sites and assets of the Paleo-Indian Glenwood Culture, in partnership with the Office of the State Archaeologist. This project resulted in publication of The Immense Journey: Loess Hills Cultural Resource Study (Alex, Lynn M.; University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist, 2011). The project documented over 120 distinct earth lodge sites and archaeological assets.
Native American Earth Lodge Reconstruction for the Glenwood Earth Lodge Society
Source Water Protection projects for prevention of source water contamination from agricultural and industrial runoffs, and protection of wetland resources
Supported and hired a grape and wine Viticulturist for the State of Iowa for three years and pursue Federal designation as an American Viticultural Area
Development and incubation of the Western Iowa Grape Growers Association and affiliated wineries
Provide Board Secretary and fiscal management for the Southwest Iowa Renewable Energyethanol plant development, including assistance with the $75.2M equity drives to maintain 51% landowner membership in the 100M gal plant
Complete an historic structures report, interpretive master plan and first phase fund development to support preservation of the Reverend Todd House – a nationally-significant underground railroad site located in Tabor, Iowa.
Cooperatively developed and provide ongoing project management, fiscal and clerical support to the Loess Hills Development Authority as well its subsidiary organizations, the Loess Hills Alliance and Hungry Canyons Alliance. The Loess Hills Alliance strives to protect special natural and cultural resources while ensuring the economic viability and private property rights of the region through the creation of a common vision for Iowa’s Loess Hills. The Hungry Canyons Alliance (HCA) was formed locally to research and implement solutions to the problem of stream channel erosion and degradation in a 23 county area of the deep loess soils region of western Iowa
In partnership with Loess Hills Alliance Stewardship Committee, Golden Hills worked with private landowners to remove invasive species and restore wildlife habitat in the Loess Hills.