By: Gerry Schnepf

Keep Iowa Beautiful, Executive Director


My experience with over 14 years of orchestrating vintage automobile tours passing through or with stops in almost every town in Iowa makes me thankful for the wide variety of small towns and the special and unique appeal each offers. The small towns in Iowa, on the roads less traveled, tend to provide the experiences that adventure travelers are often seeking. Tourism demands a basic condition of these communities: a clean and attractive place that entices travelers to stop and linger through the town. Bonus characteristics are those with cultural vitality that reflects a lively town.


Iowans and visitors don’t want every community to be a mirror image of the next town; that’s why diversity, history and the unique story of a community should be elevated for tourism. It’s what makes them stand out and become special. Our Hometown Pride community coaches work closely with our ten Iowa counties, 70-plus communities, and three Des Moines neighborhoods around the State Capitol to help city government, visionaries, and residents implement and weigh in on what those qualities are that make their community one of a kind.


For some, it’s a natural feature, their history, famous residents, local industry or attractions. In my experience, thriving communities develop their own special sense of place. For your community, can you answer the question, what makes your community different from your neighboring community?


Smart Ways to Tell Your Story


Consider more ideas on areas your community might elevate to help it stand out and be a welcoming destination to visitors:

  • Your community entrance and how it stands out using special landscaping, signage, or floral treatments.
  • The signage or “wayfinding” devices to help new visitors explore the community.
  • The preservation, promotion, or interpretation of the community’s heritage.
  • The preservation and interpretation of historic or unique architecture.
  • The outstanding history of the town and its people or elements that reflect that story
  • Promotion of unique or special events.
  • The appearance of the main street often tells the story of the total town.
  • Special color schemes used on the buildings.
  • Murals at various locations around the town.
  • Objects of art placed around the town – sculptures, paintings in vacant storefront windows, murals, an active theater, etc.
  • Creative public spaces and parks that are well maintained.
  • A publicized calendar of events reflecting an active year-round community.
  • Special street-scaping effects such as sidewalk designs or lighting.
  • Elements about the immigrants or the nationality of the people and the community amenities.
  • Special food opportunities like markets or restaurants.
  • The high-quality service that local businesses provide.
  • A unique industry encouraging local tours and visits.
  • Special skills and talents of local citizens.


These are but a sample of the many elements that can make your community special. Trust that visitors are thankful for all of them. If done well, local citizens can be the in-town advocates of their community, inviting friends and families to spend time in the place where they have so much pride.


Help Improve Iowa and Your Hometown


Join Keep Iowa Beautiful in helping to make our small towns and communities even more special. Look at your community and see what you can do to make it better. Become a sponsor of the efforts of Keep Iowa Beautiful programs. They highlight and improve these special communities in Iowa. Visit to learn more.


Louisa County Coach Doug Elam asks that you be part of making your community a better place to live, work and play by joining your local Hometown Pride group. Contact him today with your suggestions or questions at [email protected] or by calling 319-366-0705. It’s your community; make it the best it can be!