Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service Success Stories

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Shelby Wetland: A rural Community Turns Lemons into Lemonade. 
A rural community turns lemons into lemonade

The residents of Shelby, Iowa, a small rural community in Southwest Iowa, worked together to turn a piece of wasted land into a recreation area. 

Several years ago a group of Shelby bike enthusiasts were developing a new bike path just outside of town. In order to complete the path, plans called to cross an old wet pasture area owned by Alvin Jensen. At the same time, Jensen was looking for an alternative for the pasture that was too wet for crops and cattle. Reverend Stan Neilson (now deceased), an active and well-respected member of the Shelby community, saw the big picture. He brought all of the parties together to turn their individual problems into a joint opportunity. 

Neilson contacted the local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office in Oakland, Iowa. Together, Neilson and the NRCS staff visited with Jensen about the possibility of entering the pastureland into the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP).

In September of 1999 Jensen entered 20.3 acres into a permanent easement in the WRP. Over the next year, Jensen, the City of Shelby, NRCS, and several other partners including the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Fisheries and Wildlife Division and the East Pottawattamie Soil and Water Conservation District worked together to complete the wetland restoration. 

In April 2000 Jensen deeded the Shelby Wetland over to the City of Shelby, which now maintains the wetland. Mel Hursey, past Mayor of Shelby, who served the community for 10 years, provided leadership for the project when Reverend Neilson passed away. Hursey says the wetland and bike trail have been positive for Shelby. "Working on this project was a really good experience. Our local government and the federal government worked well together to do something to benefit our community," says Hursey. "The wetland provides a beautiful area to view wildlife, birds and natural grasses. It's a good learning area for kids and a nice place for people to exercise. This time of year I see a lot of people out biking and walking the trail."

Greg Mathis, District Conservationist for the NRCS in Oakland, who has been involved in the project from the beginning, agrees that the project has been good for the community, as well as the natural resources. "This was a win-win situation for everyone involved," says Mathis. "The Shelby Wetland is used by teachers and students for outdoor education, by wildlife watchers, and by people biking, walking, and rollerblading," says Mathis. "The wetland also helps to improve water quality by filtering sediment and chemicals, and to reduce flooding. The community of Shelby took advantage of a unique opportunity to improve natural resources and create a nice recreation area for its residents to enjoy."

This article is from the Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service Web Site.