Northeast Iowa recently received national recognition yet again, as Decorah was named “one of the 20 best small towns to visit in 2014” by Smithsonian Magazine (April issue). No surprise to the folks living around here. And, even Decorahans know that it's the gestalt of the whole area that is the reason for this accolade.
It's more than the cool places mentioned as the reasons to visit, such as Vesterheim Museum, Seed Savers, and Dunning's Spring. It's the amazing view stretching out for miles into what looks like the primeval fuzzy belly button of Mother Earth herself when you drive the ridge over to the Yellow River State Forest. It makes me feel like I'm connected to some ancient source of fertility, wisdom, and wild beauty. It's the charm of rolling hills of crops and pastures wearing a different color coat for each season, cared for through generations by the hands and backs of strong men and women, that brings a cozy feeling of warmth and peace to my heart every day on the commute home from work. It's the hundreds of acres of amazing county parks that allow thousands of locals and visitors to enjoy the beauty of nature, demonstrating the commitment of multiple northeast Iowa communities to preserving the flora and fauna of this unique area, both for their own intrinsic value, as well as in recognition of the benefits to the health and well-being of residents.
It's the fact that it's equally as delightful to enjoy a cup of coffee in any small town cafe, as it is to have the expensive dinner in the fancy restaurant, and that cowboy boots are a perfectly good choice for either. It's the fact that there are amazing and magical waterfalls, springs, caves, and woodlands filled with wildflowers, around just about every curve, if you can leave the road and walk a bit. It's that each community has schools where people still try, and really care, and kids still get P.E., Music, and Art class. It's that the region is filled with organizations and individuals that work tirelessly to help others and make their communities better places....many times without pay, and certainly without expecting anything in return. It's where people see that helping others and creating beauty is its own reward, and it's just the way folks are here, and you can feel it in the air. There are a ton of fun and interesting things to do here when you visit northeast Iowa. There's way more to do than a person can accomplish in one or even ten trips. It's the museums, the bike trails, the trout fishing, the restaurants, the kayaking, and dozens of other awesome things that bring folks here. But above all and most obviously, it's the people here and the atmosphere they create, that give northeast Iowa that je ne sais quoi, that special feeling people sense that makes it a winner.
*Image via Smithsonianmag.com