OCHEYEDAN, Iowa | You're already on high ground when stepping into Ocheyedan, home of the famous Ocheyedan Mound, the piece of Iowa soil 1,655 feet above sea level, making it Iowa's second highest point. There's a park along Osceola County Road A-22 southeast of Ocheyedan that celebrates this claim to fame; a place I've visited, photographed and written about.
(Ocheyedan Mound was designated as Iowa's highest point until Hawkeye Point, which stands on the Merrill and Donna Sterler farm 11 miles from Ocheyedan near Sibley, was officially awarded that distinction. Hawkeye Point, which has been developed and marketed by the county in recent years, tops out at 1,670 feet. I've also been there and recommend it.)
The claim to fame took on a little different meaning on a balmy Monday afternoon as I drove north and east toward Spirit Lake to cover a substate boys' basketball game pitting Sheldon against Alta-Aurelia. (Sheldon won, 62-42.) Pulling into Ocheyedan for a quick snoop session (just seeing what was going on, really), I noticed a half-dozen workers in the distance scurrying down several steps of stairs attached to the outside of a massive work in progress.
I gazed up and counted the steps. The total came to 232, give or take a couple.
"It's 167 feet tall," said Steve Johanson, the superintendent of this project for Younglove Construction of Sioux City.
The $25-million feed mill for Cooperative Farmers Elevator has changed the skyline for a small town south of Highway 9. Twenty-five construction workers report to the site each day, coming from these states: Iowa, Minnesota, Arkansas, Arizona, New Jersey, Texas and Pennsylvania, all awaiting their marching orders from Johanson, a Younglove employee since 1976.
Interestingly, this is only the second Iowa project upon which Johanson has worked during his career. The other? A facility at Eagle Grove, Iowa, in 1983.
"I built swimming pools for a while and then had some friends who hooked me up with Younglove Construction in Waco, Texas, in 1976," said Johanson, a 1974 graduate of the old Ringsted High School in Ringsted, Iowa, which is now part of the North Iowa Community School District. "I hired on as a welder when I joined and worked my way up."
Younglove, part of Sioux City-based Klinger Companies Inc., has 14 crews working on projects across the country, he explained. Many of Johanson's efforts have been focused on building in the southern and western portions of the country. His biggest? A plant for Halo oranges in De Lano, California, which features a variety of structures spanning 13.5 acres under one roof, including a hospital.
Work on the feed mill at Ocheyedan began last June and won't end until October, a time frame spanning 17 months or so.
Johanson and his wife, Linda, reside at nearby Milford, Iowa, during construction, a detail that has helped Johanson, in a way, connect to his roots. He recalled spending time at the Iowa Great Lakes in the 1960s and 1970s with his parents, Ann and Dale Johanson, who still reside at Ringsted.
"I got to take in some of the free music last summer at the Lakes," he said, noting how the Iowa Great Lakes have certainly experienced growth in his four decades away from the region.
When the new feed mill opens and is staffed, it could portend growth for Ocheyedan. Mike Earll, economic development director for Osceola County, said the site will need 28 full-time staffers to operate. Additionally, the new mill will require 70,000 bushels per corn to operate each day, a figure that translates into 18 million bushels of corn per year.
"It should raise the price of corn here a bit," said Earll, touching on how the mill's demand will offer local growers another alternative for their grain.
And, once the mill is functioning at capacity, some 125 semis with feed, primarily for swine, will depart this towering site, making it, undoubtedly, the busiest high-point in town.
DES MOINES -- Iowa is the best state in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report.
The Hawkeye State jumped up from its sixth place spot last year to No. 1 in U.S. News’ 2018 Best States Report. Iowa’s economic opportunity and “access to high-quality health care” helped push the state to the top, U.S. News said in a news release.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds called the 2018 ranking “a humbling tribute” to the work ethic of Iowans.
“Every Iowan contributes to the success of their community and our state, and we celebrate this honor knowing that our work to build a better Iowa will never be finished,” Reynolds said in the release.
Minnesota, Utah, North Dakota and New Hampshire all followed Iowa to round out the top five “best states.” Nebraska was ranked seventh, and South Dakota was ranked 14th. Louisiana came in at No. 50.
U.S. News evaluated states based on eight broad categories, each of which had their own more specific data points. Iowa ranked first in only one category, infrastructure, due to high scores for its internet access, public transportation, commute times, and bridge and road quality, U.S. News said.
The state ranked fourth for opportunity, a measurement of whether residents can succeed economically, and third for health care. It also ranked fifth for education, ninth for quality of life, 15th for crime and corrections, 17th for its economy, and 21st for fiscal stability.
U.S. News weighted health care, education and the economy the heaviest when determining states’ overall rankings.
"We've been basically working within this model since 2011, and as you can see by the results in so many indexes, it's working," Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, told U.S. News in a story about its latest rankings.
The state, however, ranks toward the bottom for business environment (No. 46) and for some of the other measures of economic strength: growth of the young population (No. 36), venture capital investment (No. 38) and entrepreneurship (No. 45).
"This is an area we really are going to be focusing in on over the next few years: both our competitive nature and also having more venture funding and growing that venture system within our state," Durham, a former Siouxland Chamber of Commerce president, told U.S. News.
HAWARDEN, Iowa | It's a story Alex Lynott says she's written too many times over the past two weeks.
A sick bald eagle is spotted acting odd, then rescued, followed by a positive test for lead in its system.
Lynott, founder of HEART the Wild, has helped rescue four bald eagles in the region over the past two weeks, three of which are suffering from lead poisoning. Her organization, which rehabilitates wildlife, is permitted to temporarily care for the eagles and to transfer them to Saving Our Avian Resources (SOAR), a nonprofit raptor rehabilitation facility in Manning, Iowa.
"I personally find it very strange that in such a small amount of time so many eagles from my area are showing up with lead," she said.
The first eagle was found Feb. 13 in Hudson, South Dakota, followed by one found Feb. 21 near Doon, Iowa, another found Thursday near Remsen, Iowa, and a fourth found Sunday between Akron and Westfield, Iowa.
Upon their arrival at SOAR, Lynott said the lead levels for two of the eagles measured too high to register on the machine, meaning they have an amount in their system that is often lethal. A third eagle, which is suffering mainly from a damaged wing, had a low amount of lead in her system.
The fourth eagle had yet to be tested as of Tuesday afternoon but also showed the signs of lead poisoning, she said.
"I've seen it. It's got all the symptoms," she said.
She said in each instance, passersby noticed something was off with the eagle, such as a lack of movement or inability to fly well. Eagles suffering from lead poisoning are often described as acting "drunk."
Lynott isn't certified to treat the eagles herself and, after Sunday's recovery, she said she could only watch and offer water as the eagle lay in its crate, suffering from seizures and emitting distressed noises.
"The best I could do was put it in a crate and sit by it and just apologize over and over to him as he's shaking and shaking and making these awful sounds of pain and fear," she said.
A post on her personal Facebook page Sunday that included a photo of the rescued eagle had more than 2,500 shares as of Tuesday afternoon. The post also called for a ban on lead ammunition.
Lynott said while she doesn't like getting wrapped up in politics, she wants to see a push for more research on lead poisoning in eagles and increased regulation of lead ammunition for hunting. Lead ammunition can spread throughout an animal's body when it is shot and may be ingested by eagles as they scavenge carcasses.
The U.S. banned the use of lead shot to hunt waterfowl in 1991 because of the harm to birds that ingest it but still allows lead ammunition as an option for other types of hunting. Lynott, who hunts herself, said options abound for alternate ammunition.
"Why we stop just with the waterfowl -- I'm not sure why we should," Lynott said. "We're still dealing with this issue, just with a set of different birds and different habitats."
Lynott said she has recently been contacted by people working for the Iowa Legislature who want to hear more about the issue and her experience.
"I never imagined my self getting political, but I seemed to have set a fire under a few people," she said.
Bald eagles, which are growing in population, become more plentiful in Iowa in the winter, when those in Canada and northern states migrate south to find food, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. They begin arriving during September and become more numerous through January, depending on the winter's severity.
To prevent lead poisoning in eagles, the Iowa DNR also recommends hunters select only non-toxic shot for small game shotgun hunting and non-toxic slugs or bullets for deer hunting, or recover and remove all shot game from the field if lead ammunition is used.