State parks ‘couldn’t function without volunteers’

Barbara Lee of Council Bluffs took her daughter to Lake Manawa State Park’s playground in the early 1990s. Now she’s able to watch her granddaughter play in an updated version in Dreamland Park. The 18,000-square-foot playground, which opened in 2018, cost $1.3 million to produce. More than 1,200 volunteers from ages 3 to 88 took part in making the project possible; it replaced a wooden playground from 1992. A team of civic leaders drove the million-dollar mission, obtaining several $100,000 grants and assisting in construction.

Coronavirus muddies financial waters for parks

Early in 2020, a movement picked up pace at the Iowa State Capitol to provide more money to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Gov. Kim Reynolds presented the Invest in Iowa Act, which would increase the state sales tax by a penny to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust. It was a move 10 years in the making. In 2010, Iowans voted to create the trust fund through a constitutional amendment, but the fund has never been funded. The governor’s plan would have tweaked the original formula to finance not only water quality and conservation programs but also mental health programs, while cutting income and property taxes.

Pesticides and produce: Environmental group lists the cleanest and dirtiest fruits and vegetables

An environmental advocacy group is out today with its annual report on pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables. Raisin lovers, take note. Nearly all conventionally-grown raisins are contaminated by traces of two or more pesticides, according to test data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited in Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, the report by the Environmental Working Group, based in Washington, D.C. The average sample contained more than 13 pesticides, and one sample tested positive for 26. Even most organic raisins sampled by the USDA tested positive for at least one pesticide. The environmental group recommends that consumers buy organic raisins when possible, or avoid raisins in favor of fresh fruits and vegetables with lower levels of pesticide contamination. According to the analysis, the 12 items with the most pesticide contamination were, from worst to best: strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery and potatoes.

Western monarch butterfly numbers critically low for second straight year

Monarch butterfly populations are at a critical low, according to the annual Western Monarch Count in California. In the fall and winter, western monarchs (Danaus plexippus plexippus) stop to roost along the Pacific coast in California. Here, under the direction of the Xerces Society, nearly 200 trained volunteers find and count monarchs for the annual Western Thanksgiving and New Year’s counts, now in its 23rd year. And for the second year in a row, the counts have generated troubling numbers. Fewer than 30,000 individuals were found — the number, researchers say, may be the tipping point for the population.