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Mitchell County Conservation educating people that they are all part of the watershed

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 10/22/2012 2:57 PM

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OSAGE, Iowa —Mitchell County is at the top of the Cedar River Watershed, and it's headquarters and nature center sit next to the Cedar River just west of Osage.

"I think that puts us in a unique position to highlight that what we do here impacts everyone else in the watershed," said Chelsea Ewen, Mitchell County Conservation naturalist.

Ewen uses materials developed for the Cedar River Watershed Education Project by county conservation boards in Iowa in her programming.

"We wanted to raise everyone's awareness of what a watershed is," said Milt Owen, Mitchell County Conservation executive director and one of the people who developed the project.

Owen appears in a project video that has aired on TV stations in the watershed.

"When Sen. Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids started spearheading meetings to look at this as a bigger system than just the flooding in Cedar Rapids or Linn County, we realized that citizens don't really have a good grasp of what a watershed is and how it functions," Owen said. "Our goal was to put a spotlight on these issues."

Owen said the project's slogan, "We're All in This Together," focuses on the role everyone plays.

"Whether it's a private land owner who builds a house and paves an area that water runs off more quickly, or a farmer who drains or impacts wetlands, we wanted to raise people's awareness," Owen said. "From there we developed the videos, the PowerPoints, the logo."

The goal is to affect change — whether it's through the political process or from citizens taking action.

"This isn't going to go away," Owen said. "There will be flooding again, but if we can take action to mitigate that flooding, it will be very beneficial."

The education project highlights the value of wild lands in the ecosystem.

"We can't always rely on technology to solve all our problems, but wild lands provide a valuable role in slowing down, filtering and improving water quality," Owen said. "Wild lands improve habit and provide for recreation. Every wild landscape we have has a valuable function in the watershed."

While Owen sees natural resources as the basis of all wealth, all too frequently, they are the target of cuts.

People can also support the efforts of the county conservation boards, soil and water conservation districts and the Natural Resources Conservation Service by attending programs or voting, Ewen said.

Ewen plans programming at the new nature center to educate people about watershed habitats and offers simple steps to benefit natural resources.

"I see this as a stepping stone to environmental education gearing toward sustainability," said Adam Shirley, deputy director of Mitchell County Conservation.

Owen said change is coming. One example is a wetland restoration at Brownville Wildlife Area northeast of Osage.

Project partners include the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and Coca-Cola along with Mitchell County Conservation, Mitchell County Soil and Water Conservation District and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.