The Fiftieth Anniversary Of The Last Great Thing About Iowa

If you arrive at the next town before the rhubarb pie is gone you are in the front of the pack. Rhubarb is always the first to go.

RAGBRAI – It’s not about the bikes.

This is the fiftieth anniversary of RAGBRAI.  I have been contemplating lately that RAGBRAI is one of the few remaining great things about Iowa.  We used to have small family farms; we used to be kind of progressive; we used to have the best public schools; we used to have clean water and clean air; we used to have an outstanding Pulitzer prize winning statewide newspaper that Iowa depended on. We used to be able to bike on a two lane rural road without worrying about getting run over or getting a full beer thrown at you.  We used to have Donald Kaul and John Karras. At least we still have Art Cullen. And Caitlin Clark.

Even if you aren’t a cyclist, if you are from Iowa and you have never seen RAGBRAI you should show up for a day. RAGBRAI is Iowa at its best.

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2 Responses to The Fiftieth Anniversary Of The Last Great Thing About Iowa

  1. A.D. says:

    I agree with 99% of this column. My only question is when Iowa had clean water.

    I know it wasn’t clean by the early Eighties. And I’m doubtful about whether it was clean in the Seventies, partly because I’ve seen Iowa gully photos from the Seventies that dropped my jaw. Those photos made it clear that in at least parts of Iowa, the soil erosion situation was horrendous, largely because Earl Butz urged Iowa farmers to plant rowcrops on every acre that would hold still. And eroded soil becomes water pollution.

    So was it the Sixties? The Fifties? In the first hundred years after EuroAmerican settlers started farming Iowa, parts of the state lost half their topsoil to erosion, and I’ve seen horrible gully photos from the Thirties. Also, rivers and creeks were being straightened, leading to bank erosion, and drainage tile was being laid. My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that after about 1875 or so, clean water was perhaps no longer a statewide norm.


  2. Trish Nelson says:

    Fair enough. Well, we had cleaner water than we do now. We used to be able to swim in Iowa’s lakes, streams and ponds and tube down the Iowa river during my lifetime.


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