Parks to People Regions

A Regional Approach to Improving Iowa’s Parks System

The goal of the Parks to People program is to employ public-private partnerships and local planning to connect citizens to nature and improve parks across the state.

Role of Iowa Parks Foundation

Since conceiving the Parks to People Program in 2014, the Iowa Parks Foundation has played a central role in informing Iowa communities of the program, assisting regions with their plans and working with the legislature and the governor’s office to promote the importance of providing resources to connect and improve our state parks. The Iowa Parks Foundation will continue to lead the way towards creating a fully connected 21st Century parks system linking Iowa’s landscape of public and private lands, trails and waterways.


To create a 21st Century Iowa Parks and Trails System, we need a new era of cooperation and coordination between public and private entities. The Iowa Parks Foundation is leading the Parks to People effort – a mission to bring together urban and rural counties to create a regional plan supported by a combination of public and private resources. Here’s how it works:

Step #1: Regions Form. After assessing natural and financial resources, a cluster of Iowa self-selected Iowa counties joins forces to become a “Parks to People” region.

Step #2: Regions Submit Plan to IPF. The new “Parks to People” region submits a plan to the IPF to improve and connect people and communities to nature by connecting parks and trails throughout the region.

Step #3: IPF Awards $1.9 Million Grant. An IPF steering committee selects the new “Parks to People” region and awards a $1.9 million state grant. Every $1 in state funding must be matched with $5 in local and private resources.

The Challenge

While use of our parks continues to increase, funding has remained stagnant. According to recent data from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources:

2014: Highest state park camping total in over a decade with 739,100 campers – a 6% increase compared to 2005.

2013: Highest state park visitation in over a decade with 17,190,305 park visits – a 26% increase compared to 2005.


Despite increased usage, inflation-adjusted funding for our state parks has remained flat over the past decade.

Boy Playing in CreekThe Opportunity

Iowa created one of the nation’s first state parks with the dedication of Delaware County’s Backbone State Park in 1920. As Iowa plans to celebrate its state park system’s centennial in 2020, the Iowa Parks Foundation is dedicated to leveraging public-private partnerships in an effort to build a stunning, state-of-the-art, interconnected parks system that will strengthen our economy and improve our quality of life.

The Progress

After four months of intensive planning and coalition building, on September 29, 2014, Dubuque, Jackson & Jones counties were awarded the very first Parks to People $1.9 million grant to improve four state parks, develop water trails and connect scenic byways.

While many public-private partnerships take years to launch, raise funds and break ground, the Dubuque, Jackson and Jones county region has exceeded all expectations. Since July 2014, the three-county region has partnered with local stakeholders and the business community to raise $6,688,740 in matching funds, and has completed seven projects.

Strategic Plan Placeholder

Parks to People Strategic Plan

In 2014 the Iowa Parks Foundation released an in-depth strategic plan to create a 21st Century Iowa park system. Stakeholders ranging from private business owners to the DNR helped put together this visionary plan to increase collaboration at all levels of government in an effort to connect the people of Iowa to our spectacular Iowa parks. Please take a look at the plan and join our effort to improve Iowa’s natural resources, recreation and economic vitality by connecting Iowans to the outdoors.

Download the Strategic Plan

Regional Plans

Glacial Lakes Region

Regional Contacts

Ted Kourousis
Executive Director, Northwest Iowa Planning & Development Commission
Executive Director, Glacial Lakes Region
217 West 5th Street, P.O. Box 1493
1-855-262-7225  or  712-262-7225 Ext. 142
Spencer, Iowa 51301

Erin Pingel
Assistant Executive Director, Glacial Lakes Region
1-855-262-7225 or 712-262-7225 Ext. 138

Grant Wood Loop

Regional Contacts

David J. Heiar
Program Coordinator
119 S. Main St. STE 5
Maquoketa, IA 52060

Nicolas Hockenberry
Assistant Program Coordinator
119 S. Main St. STE 5
Maquoketa, IA 52060

Loess Hills Region

Regional Contacts

Michelle Wodtke Franks
Executive Director, Golden Hills Resource Conservation & Development
Executive Director, Loess Hills Region
712 S. Highway St., PO Box 189, Oakland, Iowa 51560
(712) 482-3029

Rebecca Castle
Project Coordinator, Loess Hills Region

Lance Brisbois
Project Coordinator, Loess Hills Region