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CEDAR FALLS — When Sheila Benson moved into her home on Grand Boulevard in Cedar Falls five years ago, she knew she had some work to do.

Benson’s driveway, which sits at the lowest point in the neighborhood, was notorious for collecting water, which had nowhere to drain. It was cracked and unsightly. Benson, who teaches English at the University of Northern Iowa, considered some options, including pouring a new concrete driveway.

But Benson decided to go another way when she received a flier in the mail from the Dry Run Creek Watershed Improvement Project alerting her to grants that may be available to help cover the expense of projects for people living in the district.

Benson received $8,000 from the Department of Natural Resources after having permeable pavers installed in her driveway, which help store and filtrate the water that once accumulated on her property.

Benson’s driveway project, and a small rain garden featuring prairie plants adjacent to her driveway, are one of seven stops on the upcoming A Practical Backyard Tour put on by the Healthy Cedar Valley Coalition. The event is an opportunity for homeowners and organizations to share sustainable and Earth-friendly projects, such as Benson’s driveway re-do.

“When it rained, I would have a puddle,” Benson said. “When it froze, I would have a skating rink.”

A landscaper designed the new driveway, which includes 19 inches of gravel beneath the pavers, and installed drainage tile and hoses along the area.

Benson urges people to take advantage of the funding available for such projects.

“People need to do it,” she said. It’s a great opportunity. It has been a game-changer for this driveway.”

Josh Balk, Dry Run Creek Watershed coordinator, helped Benson line up funding help for her driveway and oversaw the work. He said the tour is a great way to highlight how local residents have taken environmental awareness — water quality in Benson’s case — into their own hands and have stepped up to the challenge.

“I think this tour can help inform others and inspire further conservation,” he said. “It takes a community.”

Dave Gibson’s home on Lone Tree Road in Cedar Falls also is on the tour.

Gibson installed two large solar panels in his backyard, which also includes a small prairie, large vegetable garden and strawberry patch. The panels have been such a success, Gibson and his wife, Karen Impola, now receive utility bills with a negative balance.

The couple’s home is a model of efficiency, as well. An addition to the home, with large windows along one side and thick, well-insulated walls, was built taking into consideration the angle of the sun. The room gets optimum sunshine in the winter to help heat the house and very little sunshine in the summer to keep it cool.

“We don’t have air conditioning,” Gibson said. “We don’t need it.”

This is the third year the HCVC has offered the tour, which takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Seven homes in Waterloo and Cedar Falls are included in the tour. Locations highlight innovative, sustainable projects such as Burmese gardening, edible landscaping, pollinator gardens, composting and more.

Planning for the tour begins in January, said Tammy Turner, who is a waste reduction educator with the Waste Trac Education Team.

“Instead of having a workshop with handouts and fliers, we thought people would be interested in seeing these things for themselves.”

The tour drew about 40 people its first year and about 80 last year, said Turner, who hopes to see it grow again this year.

“This is not a money-making event,” she said. “It is a free educational event where participants can talk with the homeowners and ask any questions they might have.”

Participants can visit sites at their own pace and in any order and will receive one free prize drawing ticket at each site they visit. Participants will be asked to sign a waiver at their first stop. A tour finale event and prize drawing will take place at 1:30 p.m. SingleSpeed Brewing in Waterloo. The tour will take place rain or shine.

Participants should print a backyard tour brochure from the “Healthy Cedar Valley Coalition” Facebook page or, which includes event details, tour addresses, map of locations, site descriptions and the list of prizes at the finale.

Though prior registration is not required, participants can earn an extra ticket for the drawing by going to the HCVC’s Facebook page and indicating they will be going to the tour.

A Practical Backyard Tour is sponsored by the Healthy Cedar Valley Coalition’s Sustainability Theme Group in partnership with Dry Run Creek Watershed Improvement Project, Green Iowa AmeriCorps, KWWL, the City of Waterloo, the City of Cedar Falls, the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, the Waste Trac Education Team, EMBARC, the Cedar Falls Seed Library, Petersen & Tietz, Meyers Nursery and SingleSpeed Brewing.


Copy Editor/Staff Writer

General assignment reporter and columnist at The Courier

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