New ‘Marsh Madness’ trailer will deliver sights, sounds and science of wetlands to audiences across Iowa

Man speaking into microphone in front of wetland education trailer.
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences endowed dean's chair Daniel J. Robison speaking at the launch of Marsh Madness, the new wetland conservation station developed by Iowa Learning Farms, Water Rocks! and the Iowa Nutrient Research Center. Photo by Whitney Baxter, Iowa State University.  

AMES, Iowa – A new trailer named “Marsh Madness” combines sight, sound and science to engage Iowa audiences about the values of the state’s wetland ecosystems. The artfully designed trailer is the latest addition to a fleet of four Conservation Stations developed and operated by Iowa Learning Farms and the Water Rocks! conservation education programs at Iowa State University.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig spoke and christened the new conservation education resource during a launch party May 27 at the Case-New Holland Training Center in Nevada. The event also included comments from Kayla Lyon, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and Daniel J. Robison, endowed dean’s chair of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State. The speakers toured the Conservation Station trailer along with representatives of the Iowa State Soil Conservation Committee, Conservation Districts of Iowa, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and others.

Outside and inside, Marsh Madness is decorated with scenes of wetlands and their plant and animal communities created by Artworks Studios in Carroll, Iowa, owned by Iowa State alum Cecelia Comito (’85 journalism and mass communication) and sister Laura Comito, and Ann Staudt, with Iowa Learning Farms. Recorded sounds of red-winged blackbirds, sora rail, frogs and other wetland fauna add to the conservation trailer’s immersive experience.

The trailer also features three-dimensional interactive models that demonstrate the unique landscape placement and hydrology of three wetland types typical in the state: a prairie pothole, an oxbow wetland and a water treatment wetland based on the state’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement (CREP) wetlands, designed to remove nitrates from agricultural tile drainage.

“Seeing is believing,” Naig said in his remarks, alluding to the trailer’s water quality model demonstrations. “Iowa has a long and proud history in conservation. That includes being the first state to develop and implement a nutrient reduction strategy. We’ve done a lot, but we have a long way to go to achieve important and ambitious goals. This particular trailer can help move us forward by giving us new opportunities to talk about wetlands and their benefits.”

Marsh Madness was developed by Iowa Learning Farms team and the Iowa Nutrient Research Center. Other funding partners included Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (through a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 319 Program grant) and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State.

“The beautiful landscapes and waterscapes of Iowa sustain us, and we have an obligation to sustain them. This trailer represents that,” Robison said. “Three cheers for the team who put this together, and also to those who will learn from it!”

The trailer will travel across the state to schools, county fairs and other events. Reservations are free and include educational programming and materials for all ages and backgrounds, presented by Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! staff and interns and/or Iowa State faculty and staff.

Marsh Madness will take its inaugural trips to communities in eastern Iowa’s Lee and Linn counties in early June. It is booked for events through summer 2021, and reservations are being accepted for September and after.

The Conservation Station trailers have appeared at 769 total events since 2010, engaging with some 103,600 Iowans. Collectively, they log an estimated 18,000 – 24,000 miles each year. Learn more about the trailers and how to reserve them online.

Take a virtual look at the conservation trailer in this video.

About Iowa Learning Farms:

Established in 2004, Iowa Learning Farms is building a Culture of Conservation by encouraging adoption of conservation practices. Farmers, researchers and ILF team members are working together to identify and implement the best management practices that improve water quality and soil health while remaining profitable.

About Water Rocks!:

Water Rocks! is Iowa’s unique, award-winning statewide youth water education program. Through a combination of STEM and the arts, especially music, Water Rocks! educates, challenges and inspires young people toward a greater appreciation of our state’s water, soil and other natural resources.