Grants Fund Discovery of the Past in Iowa

Strategy: Balance Your Budget, Collaborate in New Ways

Type of attraction: Heritage Area/Scenic Byway/Heritage Trail

Summary: In working with Loess Hills Scenic Byway, a 200-mile route stretching through seven Iowa counties, Shirley Frederiksen faced her biggest challenge yet: documenting the Native American cultures that inhabited the region as far back as 1000 A.D.

In working with Loess Hills Scenic Byway, a 200-mile route stretching through seven Iowa counties, Shirley Frederiksen faced her biggest challenge yet: documenting the Native American cultures that inhabited the region as far back as 1000 A.D.

“Everyone kept saying ‘Yes, there are nationally significant archaeological resources from the Mill Creek and Glenwood cultures,’” says Frederiksen, NRCS Coordinator for Golden Hills Resource Conservation and Development office in Oakland, Iowa.

“I finally got irritated hearing “Yes, but we can’t prove it,’” she says. “So the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway Council decided to prove it and started pulling together grant funds to get the documentation necessary to prove national significance.”

That is when Frederiksen encountered her second biggest challenge: Money.

rants for all of the projects,” Frederiksen explains. “It seems that in the last few years, in most all areas the pool of funds has shrunk and the number of applicants has increased so it is harder to secure the funds. It is also harder to find the match when it has to be cash.”

The 650,000-acre Loess Hills region parallels the Missouri River and is named for the thick deposits of windblown silt called loess (pronounced "luss") covering steep bluffs, with narrow corrugated ridges and alternating peaks and saddles. The National Park Service has cited the area as the best example of loess topography in the United States.

Around 1,000 AD, this region was home to two native Indian cultures - Mill Creek and Glenwood. While both lived in semi-permanent villages, grew corn, made decorated pottery vessels and traded with each other, they are believed to have been distinct cultures. Eventually leaving the region, they left behind rich archaeological evidence of their existence including sites of more than 1,000 earth lodges.

Knowing the importance of the archaeological research that was needed, Golden Hills RC&D set about writing – and being awarded – a series of grants. “It has helped us to say ‘This is part of the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway.’ It moves you up a rung on the ladder,” Frederiksen says. Additionally, Golden Hills RC&D was diligent in including project elements to engage local residents.

“Golden Hills RC&D started in 2008 with a cultural resources study funded by seven different grant sources,” Frederiksen says. “We began with seven public meetings to let people know we would like to document the resources on their property but that we would not share it with the public if it was on private land. Most of the people knew us so it was reassuring to them. In 2010, after the study was completed, we had public meetings again to share what we learned, and we sent everyone who attended one of the meetings a final report.”

Over $400,000 in total grant dollars were secured to allow the Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist team to study the region’s prehistoric, historic and architectural resources. “We knew there were a lot of local historical societies that would like to have this information to apply for National Register of Historic Places listings,” Frederiksen explains.

A Natural Resource Opportunity Grant funded installation of archaeology interpretive panels along the byway. “The information explains ‘what’s the big deal’ about these sites,” Frederiksen says. “For example, the Turin Man Burial Site is where the oldest human remains in Iowa Archaic Period – 6,000 years ago – were found.”  Another interpretive panel is adjacent to a replica of an earth lodge from 1,000 A.D. It helps visitors understand and get more excited when they can experience it.”

Another major project is saving 907 acres at the Glenwood Resource Center which has the richest archaeological resources in Iowa without a systematic survey. The property was transferred to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources as a state archaeology preserve with the next step to be an archaeological survey.

Golden Hills RC&D and the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway Council are gathering funds to do an archaeological survey,” Frederiksen says. “We have gotten one grant for $292,000, another one for $55,000, and we need the remaining $95,000. Our long-range goal is to develop a Loess Hills Archaeology Interpretive Center.”

Golden Hills RC&D and the Byway Council will keep writing grants because the results are needed. Citing an example: “As part the results from a series of grants, we were able to apply for – and were awarded – a National Register multiple property listing on the Mill Creek and Glenwood Cultures,” she says. “We got lots of positive press from that. How many places can say they have nationally significant archaeological sites in their counties?”

For more information, visit; contact Golden Hills RC&D, 712-482-3029,