Iowa's roadsides -- places of beauty

Monday, October 17, 2011

During the Iowa State Fair a number of people stopped by the Keep Iowa Beautiful booth expressing displeasure and frustration at the condition of Iowa's roadsides.

Namely, they were commenting regarding the efforts they (as adjacent property owners) have been putting in to roadside enhancement and beautification near their homes. Many have put in considerable time and effort and take great pride in the plant species and floral displays throughout the summer and fall. A key part of the beauty of our State originates with the roadsides and the native flowing vegetation.

The frustration in working with roadsides starts when the public roadside manager decides that mowing these areas may be in the best interest of the agency. This action often destroys the work of the landowner and the potential natural beauty and wildlife habitat of the roadside. The roadside managers objective for a "manicured" roadside often range from decreasing winter snow drifting to enhanced visual ability of drivers -- in other words safety issues.

On the other side of the equation are the property owners that are mowing large areas of roadside with the same objective of creating a clean and beautiful setting. This dichotomy can be best captured by the phrase "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" - natural plantings versus a neat and tidy mowed setting.

We all have different opinions of what is attractive. In some instances mowing is initiated due to the presence of an invasive weed species i.e. Canada Thistle. Mowing can reduce the problem without the use of chemicals.

Both the adjacent landowner and the roadside manager have perfectly legitimate objectives whatever the situation. The problem occurs when each other's objectives aren't known about ahead of time, not balanced and/or infringe on one another's objectives. These real conflicts can often be resolved through consideration of one another by communication, open discussion and pre-planning so that the conflicts don't occur or are greatly reduced. This is called roadside vegetative management.

Protection of the "beautiful roadside botanical gardens" while assuring safety and low maintenance costs should be mutually achieved to meet the objectives of the landowner and volunteer, and the organization or governmental unit through careful discussion and planning.

(Submitted by Gerald F. Schnepf, Executive Director, www.keepiowabeautiful.com).