REAP: A Case Study of Stewardship
Linn County Projects Show Results of Natural, Cultural Resource Protection
By Katie Gandhi and David Osterberg

July 27, 2015
This Executive Summary (2-page PDF)
Full report (28-page PDF)
News Release or 2-page PDF

In a quarter-century, the Resource Enhancement and Protection program (REAP) has shown what collaborative efforts among legislators, cities, counties and private, conservation-related organizations can do throughout the state of Iowa to enhance environmental and cultural stewardship. Iowa lawmakers implemented REAP in 1989, on the heels of the Iowa Open Space plan of 1988. REAP reinforced Iowa’s ambitious goal to double the acreage of protected open space and commit the state to protecting natural and cultural resources long into the future.

REAP distributes state funds, through grant competitions or state agencies, to projects that are dedicated to the preservation of Iowa’s natural and cultural resources in eight categories:

• Conservation Education
• Roadside Vegetation Implementations
• Historic Resource Development
• State Land Management
• State Open Space
• City Parks and Open Space
• Soil and Water Enhancement
• County Park Improvements and Acquisitions

In its first 25 years, REAP produced 14,535 projects and $264 million in state investment. Today, REAP continues to support long-term investments in Iowa’s natural and cultural resources, with projects that reflect citizen interests. From county, regional and statewide assemblies, citizens make recommendations to the Governor, Legislature and state agencies.
Each year the number of grant applications exceed available funds.

In this report, we illustrate some of the benefits of REAP investments over the past 25 years with a look at REAP use in one county — Linn County — which demonstrates both rural and urban examples.

REAP in Linn County

In the first 25 years of REAP, Linn County has received more than $6 million in REAP grants. The Linn County projects demonstrate how REAP contributes in its eight focus areas statewide:

Conservation Education — Environmental education programs and curriculum at the Indian Creek Nature Center. REAP encourages sensory exploration and teaches kids about technology, conservation careers and environmental issues. The center’s 2011 annual report noted over 25,000 adults and 15,000 children benefited from at least one of 440 group programs and/or walks on the Nature Center’s trails. Statewide, each year such efforts claim the first $350,000 (currently about 2 percent) of REAP funding.

Soil & Water Enhancement — Dry Run Creek Watershed water quality protection. Data showed ground and surface water quality had diminished within the watershed as livestock waste entered surface waters and fecal chloroform bacteria and nitrates entered groundwater. REAP supplemented the costs required to reduce tillage, implement proper nutrient management, plug wells and perform water sampling. Public field days educated the public about sustainable practices. After the $350,000 for conservation education, soil and water enhancement efforts receive 20 percent of REAP funding statewide to protect woodlands, habitat and water resources.

County Conservation Board — Capital improvements. REAP contributed to the construction of the Mary Lundby Memorial Trail Bridge at Pinicon Ridge Park, where a separate land acquisition grant provided 40 acres. Twenty percent of REAP funds (post-conservation education) go to such county projects.

Roadside Vegetation — Gateway and roadside plantings, such as plantings at Pleasant Creek and Buffalo Creek parks and sections of roadsides and native plant landscaping at an I-380 rest stop. Three percent of post-education REAP funds boost sustainable roadside management.

Historical Resource Development — Conservation of artifacts at the city of Marion and the African American Museum of Iowa, and Czech and Slovak Museum flood recovery. REAP allocates 5 percent of funds to the Historical Resource Development Program. These REAP investments have supported 22 organizations in Linn County over the past 25 years.

State Land Management and State Open Space —
Acquisition of land at Palisades-Kepler and Pleasant Creek state parks. About 9 percent of REAP funds are designated for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to manage and develop state conservation lands. Another 28 percent of funds go to the category of state acquisition and development of lands and waters.

City Parks & Open Spaces — Expansion of Robins City Park, trail facilities and woodland in Marion, and woodland in Cedar Rapids. In cities, REAP supports efforts to gain open space areas to promote biodiversity and multi-recreational opportunities for city residents through park enhancement and development. Fifteen percent of REAP funding goes here.


A quarter-century of experience offers clear examples of environmental and cultural investments that Iowans could not have expected in the absence of REAP. The economic impact can be hard to quantify, but the Linn County successes noted in this report may raise public awareness of REAP contributions in all 99 counties. In turn, all Iowans may evaluate whether REAP should be underfunded annually, below its $20 million target, a nearly 25-year trend that keeps REAP well short of its potential.

Peter FisherKatie Gandhi was a graduate student intern at the Iowa Policy Project in the 2014-15 school year. She has a concentration in land use and environmental planning in her studies in the School of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Iowa. She has a bachelor’s degree in biology, sociology and environmental science.

David OsterbergDavid Osterberg is co-founder of the Iowa Policy Project who specializes in research on environment and energy issues. A former Iowa state representative who served when the REAP program was passed, Osterberg holds an M.S. in water resources management and another in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a professor in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Iowa.

We gratefully acknowledge generous funding support provided by the McKnight Foundation and the Fred and Charlotte Hubbell Foundation. Policy recommendations are solely the perspective of the authors and the Iowa Policy Project.