Generations of local leaders propel Bancroft, population 699

BANCROFT – The city of Bancroft, called “the garden spot of Iowa” for almost 90 years, may not be growing in population. But like a good perennial plant with solid roots, it is regenerating and flowering. Located in northern Kossuth County in north-central Iowa about 20 miles south of the Minnesota state line, Bancroft has a population of 699 residents, according to 2020 Census data, down from 732 in 2010. It’s who makes up that 699 number that matters. Bancroft has an eclectic mix of new, longtime and returning residents.

Iowa’s shrinking towns could be state, regional mentors

Some Iowa towns may be shrinking in population, but they may have an impact on other communities in Iowa and beyond. Officials with the Iowa League of Cities and researchers with Iowa State University say a handful – dwindling but proactively maintaining and improving their quality of life – are raising eyebrows and may be pathfinders for other communities to follow. Colleagues have already reached some to find out what those towns are doing right, said Alan Kemp, executive director of the Iowa League of Cities, an advocacy and training group for 850 Iowa member cities. Alan Kemp is the executive director of the Iowa League of Cities. “It was sort of interesting to look at this idea of shrinking smart,” Kemp said.

Elma, population 505, meets town needs through bridge building, $1.4 million project

ELMA – This town is all about building bridges – even though you normally won’t find an expanse of water much wider than Mead Creek on the northwest edge of town. There’s one covered bridge, an old rail head viaduct over Main Street that is now part of a recreational trail. That has now become a community symbol, a motif of what this Howard County community of a little more than 500 is trying to accomplish. In fact, the name of the town’s nonprofit community betterment organization is The Bridge Inc. It’s a coalition of people that have put together a community complex project now underway in a closed elementary school building. Elma is one of a handful of Iowa communities involved in Shrink Smart, an Iowa State University research project begun in 2017 that examines how towns with decreasing populations keep their quality of life.

Iowan visits every town and city in the state in 5 years. Here’s what he learned.

Wanting to know their new state after moving to Iowa in 2014, Dave and Karen Miglin and their two children went to the Field of Dreams movie site outside of Dyersville in northeast Iowa. 

Dave Miglin had moved from Atlanta ahead of the family the previous year for his job as media and digital vice president for Strategic America in West Des Moines. Sitting at Iowa’s famous baseball field in a farm field, his son, Evan, was asking questions. “He was, like, curious to know what I was going to see next,” Miglin, 53, said. With support from the Solutions Journalism Network

“Next” became visits to every incorporated town and city in Iowa over five years. Iowa had 955 incorporated towns when he started his quest.

Parkersburg grits through pandemic

PARKERSBURG, Iowa – After a killer tornado in 2008 and the murder of a beloved community leader a year later, many folks in Parkersburg felt they could take just about any punch thrown at them. Then came the coronavirus pandemic. It claimed lives and took a bite at businesses. But as was the case with those prior tragedies, the people of Parkersburg weren’t about to be defined by this latest challenge. Instead they defined themselves by what they would do to overcome — support one another.

Iowa towns that are thriving, bucking trend of rural decline

A handful of small Iowa towns with 5,000 or fewer people and not part of a larger metro area bucked the trend in the 2020 census and grew their populations. These towns grew populations at a time when the 2020 census showed Iowa’s urban population growing to 64% of the state’s 3.16 million people. The share of urban dwellers in Iowa was near 61% in both 2010 and 2000, 58% in 1990, and 57% in 1980. With support from the Solutions Journalism Network

A four-month IowaWatch investigation that included visits to 58 towns of 5,000 or fewer people turned up examples of growing rural communities. One of those growing in population isn’t even incorporated, but counted, none the less, by the U.S. Census Bureau.

La Porte City ‘rumbles’ through pandemic

LA PORTE CITY, Iowa – This town emerged from the pandemic “ready to rumble” – literally. The city of La Porte City completed a $3 million “streetscape” renovation of Main Street downtown while many businesses were shut down in 2020. It included a restoration of the raised-brick pavement in the street that autos and carriages rode over for generations. With support from the Solutions Journalism Network

“People wanted the bricks back because they like that rumble,” Mayor Dave Neil, a former Iowa state labor commissioner and member of the Iowa Board of Regents, said. But there have also been losses due to the coronavirus.