ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
Located two hours due west of Des Moines and about 20 minutes north of Council Bluffs, Hitchcock Nature Center gives hikers 10 miles of trails to explore. Photo: Lance Brisbois


Writer: Beth Eslinger

With cooling temps, golden prairies and oaks, plus farms with fresh produce dotting the countryside, late summer and early fall are a prime time for families, foodies and nature-lovers to visit. Here are our picks for the ultimate day getaway in western Iowa's Loess Hills.

  • Nature drive-by: The Loess Hills National Scenic Byway cruises up the western spine of the state and provides ample options to stop by orchards, wineries, parks and more. Pick a small section (download the guide and choose your adventure). The sites on this day trip focus on the centrally located Hitchcock loop; Council Bluffs is at the core and a solid overnight option with myriad dining and lodging options, plus several museums.

  • Terrific treks: Operated by Pottawattamie County Conservation, Hitchcock Nature Center offers a quiet getaway amid the hills. Start your visit at the visitor's center, where you can climb the 45-foot observation tower for expansive views of the landscape. Fall is a prime time for birders; HawkWatch tracks migrating eagles, hawks and other raptors September through December. After your bird's-eye view of the land, hit the trails to see the environment up close. Ten miles wind through the ridges, some with tough climbs; the trails connect via loops to test your endurance.

  • Local orchards: Several you-picks are located near Council Bluffs. One favorite is Ditmars Orchard and Vineyard, where you can pick fresh apples before shopping their store for hard cider, pie and salsa. Kids can run through the corn maze and greet the goats.

Formerly the kitchen with a 7-foot ceiling (and an addition facing lakeside), the living area is now open to other entertaining spaces. Surfaces such as shiplap paneling, knotty pine ceilings, brickwork and gray walls repeat throughout the home for a consistent look. Photo: Paul Gates


Home projects run in Miranda and Mark Paup’s blood. As owners of Golden Rule Plumbing, Heating & Cooling and M & Company Homes, the Paups, who live in Grimes, are also always working on a personal project. When they found this Okoboji fixer-upper in 2016, they saw potential but also a number of challenges.

On the plus side: The house sat just 50 feet from the water, was large enough for entertaining family and friends, and was located on a desirable side of the lake. The negatives: Additions on the front and back of the house boxed in the original A-frame structure, 7-foot ceilings in the living areas contributed a claustrophobic feel, and choppy spaces created an awkward traffic flow. “It was basically a dark hole with short ceilings,” says Catherine Thomas of CRT Design Co., a residential designer and AIA associate. Thomas reworked the floor plan to create an open space in the original A-frame style.

Thomas’ priority was getting rid of wasted space, opening up entertaining areas and creating a brighter environment with the addition of a few windows. The design plan came together in just three months. The Paups “are quick decision-makers,” says Thomas. “When we can make decisions right away, things get done so much faster.”

Read the rest of the transformation in our newest issue of ia magazine.
Elkader in northeast Iowa was one of the five cities throughout Iowa designated as Cultural and Entertainment Districts by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. Photo: Gingersnap by Catherine


Well, five more communities in Iowa are officially cool—and have the paperwork to prove it. The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs recently designated Ames Main Street, Cedar Rapids’ District of Czech Village and New Bohemia, Des Moines’ Avenues of Ingersoll and Grand, Main Street Elkader and the Spencer Arts District as Iowa Cultural and Entertainment Districts.

The announcement expands Iowa’s total list of districts to 13, each with a critical mass of public artwork, museums, performing arts venues, festivals and other activities within a walkable area.

Clayton County's Elkader, for example, recently opened two art galleries and unveiled a half-dozen murals in its “Art in the Alley” display, where visitors can pose for photos during a walk- or drive-through tour at the Harvest Festival on Oct. 10. Folks can cross the iconic Keystone Bridge, admire the restored clocktower on the Clayton County Courthouse, or rent canoes or kayaks on the Turkey River and then float back downtown for a fresh doughnut or two (or three ...) at Pedretti’s Bakery.

“We have so many new businesses that involve arts and culture,” Main Street Elkader Director Kate Lowe says. “That really puts us on the map.”

You can find the other Iowa Cultural and Entertainment Districts in Cedar Falls, Davenport, Dubuque, Fairfield, LeClaire, Mason City, Mount Vernon and West Des Moines.
The High Trestle Trail Bridge near Woodward is one of the crown jewels of the route, which starts in Ankeny.
Photo: Travel Iowa


The High Trestle Trail is one of Central Iowa's most beloved bike routes. It spans 25 miles, from Ankeny to Woodward, and boasts the iconic High Trestle Trail Bridge. And it's about to become even more intriguing. A new report proposes adding more high-profile amenities along the trail, according to the Business Record.

The expansion, built on a 4.1-mile stretch in Ankeny, would include artwork, some of which could be interactive. One of the proposed installations includes a sculpture over the trail that could be climbed and biked under. Other sculptures include large animals and meadows showcasing plants and trees native to Iowa. The goal of the expansion is to attract more users to the trail, providing a boost to Ankeny businesses.

“One of the things this plan is going to help us accomplish is making Ankeny more of a destination or launching off point for the High Trestle Trail," Derek Lord, Ankeny's economic development director, told the Business Record.  

According to the Business Record, "the report includes proposed sculptures and other public art from artists across the country. The proposed artwork 'authentically expresses Ankeny’s most-loved characteristics,' the report said."

Read the Business Record's full report here.

Cracking Hunger has connected Iowa's egg farmers with those in need throughout the state.


In 2018, the Iowa Egg Council initiated a program called Cracking Hunger with the goal of donating about 35,000 dozen eggs per month to Iowa’s food bank system. Two years later, the program has become even more important during the pandemic—and it has expanded.

Iowa egg farmers are expected to donate 6.5 million eggs this year, increasing their contribution to 45,000 dozen per month.
Farmers have also been contributing to the Pack the Pantry grant program. Through the initiative, food banks can apply for grants to increase refrigeration capacity, which allows them to offer more eggs and other perishable foods.

Rose Acre Farms, Sparboe Foods, Versova, Center Fresh, Daybreak Foods, Oskaloosa Foods, Michael Foods, Centrum Valley and Hy-Line have contributed individually toward Cracking Hunger. Donations are going to the Food Bank of Iowa, the Iowa Food Bank Association, other local food pantries and schools.

Iowa Stops Hunger is a yearlong Business Publications Corp. initiative to bring awareness and action to food insecurity in Iowa.

On the set at the filming of "Complete Bull,"  a new film series filmed partly in northeast Iowa's Clayton County.
Photo: Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

Storm clouds are easy to spot in most parts of Iowa, where they appear on the distant horizon and push across the open sky. But they sneak up on the narrow valleys of Clayton County, in Iowa’s hilly northeast corner. During a recent film shoot on a dairy farm near Guttenberg, the cows felt the storm first. They started mooing before the wind carried in even the first whiff of rain.

“You can’t re-create this on a back lot,” director Barry Andersson says, gazing toward the pasture that makes the film project, “Complete Bull,” feel completely true.

“A lot of being an actor is exercising your power of imagination,” the actress Hannah Ruwe adds. Here, “the location does so much of the work for you.”

In the new series, which producers are pitching to Netflix and Hulu, among others, Ruwe plays a young woman who leaves city life and gets into cattle farming. Really into: She becomes an artificial insemination technician.
The show’s producer, Colleen Bradford Krantz of Pink Spear Productions in Adel, grew up on a cattle farm in western Iowa and drafted the script a few years ago.

She landed a $30,000 Greenlight Grant from Produce Iowa, the state office of film and media production, and bundled it with support from additional investors to build a $108,000 budget, with more than a dozen cast and crew members. They’ve been traipsing around the Driftless Area—mostly Clayton County, but Dubuque, too—filming on various farms, staying in motels and B&Bs and, of course, prompting some chatter among the locals.

“Iowans are very open to helping when they hear you might be filming in the area,” Krantz says. “In fact, sometimes we had to argue to let us pay them a location fee.”

Read the rest of the film project, including an update during the pandemic, here.
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