ACED Executive Director Val Reinke represents Effigy Mounds at National Park discussion in Washington, D.C.

by Lissa Blake

Effigy Mounds National Monument is one of only two National Parks in Iowa, which makes it an asset worth preserving.

Val Reinke, executive director of Allamakee County Economic Development and Tourism, recently had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to let legislators know why it is so important to take care of the nation’s national parks.

“We have two National Park assets in Iowa: Effigy Mounds and the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum,” said Reinke. “There are 417 national parks, which have $11.6 billion in deferred maintenance.”

Reinke said she had about two weeks notice that the National Trust for Historic Preservation was funding trips to Washington, D.C. to help state teams connect with their legislators.

The Iowa team included Reinke; Joshua Moe, president of Preservation Iowa; and Keven Rogers, executive director of West Branch Main Street, where the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is located.

“Most of the other states had all been out there. Our Iowa team was joined by the teams from South Carolina and North Carolina,” Reinke said, adding those three were the last state teams to go to Washington.

Reinke said her visit to Washington was a whirlwind, lasting from July 16-18. “The teams all met at the National Trust for Historic Preservation at the Watergate complex. We talked about dollars involved and where the dollars are at with regard to the 2018 Restore Our Parks Act,” she said.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has focused on the National Park Service Act for almost two years. It also supports the Restore Our Parks Act, which aims to wipe out 1.2 of the $11.6 billion backlog over the next five years.

July 17, Reinke and her team attended a congressional coffee event before meeting with a number of people. These included: Gerald Huguelet, legislative assistant for Congressman Rod Blum’s office; Nick Crawford, legislative aid for David Young’s office; Mathu Meiners, legislative assistant for Steve King’s office; Tyler Brown, legislative assistant for Joni Ernst’s office; Senator Joni Ernst; Andrew Brandt, legislative assistant for Chuck Grassley’s office; and Will Collier, legislative assistant for Dave Loebsack’s office.

“These meetings were really an eye-opener. You can tell senators and congressmen are really trying to tackle many issues and their aids are well-versed,” Reinke said.

Reinke said she helped deliver the message that Allamakee County tourism benefits from Effigy Mounds and its visitors. “Parks are economic engines. Visitors to Allamakee County spent $40 million in 2016,” she said.

Reinke said last winter, Effigy Mounds had to cancel many of its winter programs due to a failing sewer system, built in 1959. “They had to limit their visitors because they couldn’t allow that many flushes,” said Reinke.

Earlier this spring, staff brought in port-a-potties for visitors, which are still there. “In Iowa alone, we have $4.5 million in deferred maintenance. About $2.3 million of that is at Effigy Mounds,” she said.

Reinke took with her the message that as a county, Effigy Mounds is one of the things that differentiates Allamakee County from the rest of the state. “Effigy Mounds National Monument, with 200 burial mounds, attracts 80,000 visitors a year,” she said.

Reinke said it is one of several local attractions that work together to bring in visitors. “Yellow River Forest and its 9,000 acres attract 40,000 visitors a year. The new Driftless Area Education and Visitor Center has brought in more than 15,000 visitors since opening last August. The Driftless Scenic Area Byway is the No. 1 most scenic byway in the state, providing 100 miles of amazing views. Allamakee County is home to 36.2 miles of Great River Road, which makes you say, ‘Wow! Who knew?’” she said.

“These all impact our bars, restaurants, gas stations and lodging. They also impact Prairie du Chien and Clayton County,” she furthered.

Reinke said Effigy Mounds and other local attractions are an integral part of what makes Allamakee County a great place to live and vacation. “We have so many opportunities here. A lot of our own residents don’t even realize we have an asset like Effigy Mounds here. I want to encourage our residents to go visit,” she said.

Reinke said she was honored to be invited to represent Iowa in Washington. “We had two weeks to prepare. When we got there, it was about sharing our personal stories and trying to find a connection before we walked out of the room,” she said.

Reinke said her visit was really eye-opening and she hopes the Senate will see fit to approve the legislation. “It’s so blazingly obvious that these 417 parks have been ignored. It is nice to have the opportunity to let people know we are part of the big picture, because we are,” she said.

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