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Public invited to open house for new Driftless Area Education and Visitor Center Saturday

The public is invited to celebrate the opening of the Driftless Area Education and Visitor Center this Saturday, August 12, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Center is located at 1944 Columbus Road just south of Lansing.

Attendees can tour the property and view the interpretive and dimensional displays housed at the Center, covering topics such as geology, limnology (rivers/streams), archeology, wildlife studies, river town industries and economies, American Indian cultures and more.

Originally the site of the village of Columbus and the county courthouse, the Allamakee County Conservation Board has owned the parcel of land, just south of downtown Lansing, for many years. A house and several cabins existed on the property until about 10 years ago when water and sewer issues became problematic. The leases were allowed to expire, the buildings were removed and the dream, dating back some 20 years in the minds of forward-looking conservationists, began to take shape.

In 2012, the Center received its initial funding from a grant from the National Scenic Byways Program for $1.3 million, which allowed for the planning and design of the building to begin. Additional grants were received from the Vision Iowa Community Attraction and Tourism Program ($486,000), the R.J. McElroy Trust ($300,000), Allamakee County banks ($250,000), and the Iowa Road Use Fund ($187,000).

A Capital Campaign Fund was undertaken by the Allamakee County Conservation Foundation in 2015, and the goal of $1.3 million was achieved through the philanthropy of many northeast Iowans. Donations over $1,000 are recognized on the Donor Wall near the entrance of the building, and all contributions are recorded in a Book of Donations which is available at the welcome desk.

The first floor of the building is dedicated to the unique features of the 24,000-square- mile portion of the upper Midwest known as the Driftless Area. In addition to exhibits and information about the soil and rock formations, conservation efforts are explained and popular creatures and wildlife of the area are mentioned. Live turtles, snakes, toads and fish can be observed as well as a stuffed bear, bobcat, raccoon and active beehive, also on exhibit.

The second floor of the Center is devoted to the living history of the area, with displays and information about Native American life, a photo-mural of a typical river village, immigrants and the settling of Allamakee County. Centered around two fishing boats suspended from the ceiling, the story of the Mississippi River and Lansing is then told with emphasis on commercial fishing, clamming and button making, logging, and the lock and dam system. An auditorium/classroom, serving kitchen and storage rooms are located on the ground floor. Two large decks overlooking the Mississippi River are also included on the exterior of the first and second floors.

The Center will also provide meeting and office space for public use, classrooms and group learning areas, multiple observation decks and more.

After the grand opening this Saturday, the Center will be open Monday through Friday, and on weekends during the summer and high-tourist seasons throughout the year.

An area also is available on the second floor for traveling exhibits, and for river authors and artists to display their works. A 30-minute movie about the Driftless Area is also available and a complete program of activities is being developed for visiting school students on field trips.

The Allamakee County conservation director and office manager will move their offices into the Center and be available during the workweek. A volunteer program is also being developed, and those people will also help to staff the center and welcome visitors.

R. J. McElroy Trustee Dr. Raleigh Buckmaster of Lansing said McElroy Trust representatives feel the Center will fulfill its mission of benefiting deserving young people. “We see this interpretive center as an opportunity to inspire and transform young people in northeast Iowa. We hope to engage young people in understanding more about the Driftless Area and our entire ecosystem,” said Buckmaster.

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