On September 28, Vesterheim was recognized at the 2022 Iowa Water Conference in Dubuque, Iowa, for a project in the Upper Iowa Watershed. Vesterheim Heritage Park was awarded Stormwater and Urban Watershed Partner of the Year for outstanding performance related to urban watershed protection and improvement of water quality in Iowa.

The partners in this project included Winneshiek County Soil and Water Conservation District; Upper Iowa River Watershed Management Authority; Northeast Iowa Resource, Conservation & Development; Amy Bouska, Eastern Iowa’s Urban Conservation Program Coordinator; and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. The project was supported by an IDALS Urban Conservation Water Quality Initiative grant.

Situated in the Upper Iowa River Watershed and on the edge of a historic floodplain, Heritage Park is approximately 850 ft. from the Upper Iowa River, which is on Iowa’s impaired water list. For the project, international architecture and landscape architecture firm Snøhetta worked with Damon Farber Landscape Architects to create a Nordic-like forest with native plants and trees, gathering spaces, accessible pathways, and more.

From spring 2020 through June 2021, Damon Farber and contractor 2nd Nature constructed a welcoming outdoor space, incorporating soil quality restoration, native landscaping, and permeable pavers to filter and reduce stormwater runoff into the Upper Iowa River.

Soil restoration uses compost and aeration to soak up stormwater while providing a healthy, deep-rooting profile for trees, plantings, and no-mow fescue across the site. A densely planted native tree canopy and prairie plantings demonstrate landscapes before settlement, and using native landscaping supports drought resistance, habitat creation, and water quality improvements. Permeable pavers reduce and treat runoff while maintaining space for events.

“The results of this project successfully transformed an underutilized, traditional mowed lawn into a landscape that improves infiltration, reduces runoff, and demonstrates sustainable stormwater management,” Chris Johnson, Vesterheim President/CEO, said. “Vesterheim is grateful for the partners who made this project possible and who gave guidance in responsibly caring for our shared natural resources.”