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From Wasteland to Treasure: Nahant Marsh Marks 15 Years as a Nature Preserve PDF Print E-mail
Environment
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 17 September 2015 05:35

An aerial view of Nahant Marsh. Photo by Connor Woollums.

Even a brief visit to Davenport’s Nahant Marsh will show something unusual: a wetland habitat nestled in an area that includes an interstate highway, a railroad, and various agricultural and industrial uses. You’ll likely see plants and animals that you won’t find anywhere else in the Quad Cities area, just a few minutes’ drive from the Rockingham Road exit of Interstate 280 in the southwestern part of the city.

“We know it’s the largest urban wetland between St. Paul and St. Louis” along the Mississippi River, said Executive Director Brian Ritter. “We think it’s one of the largest urban wetlands in the United States.”

Yet getting a fuller sense of the marsh requires patience. As Nahant Marsh Board President Tim Murphy noted: “The marsh does not usually reveal itself easily but will come to those that sit and take the time to observe.”

In an e-mail, he said that “I really like the beaver complex in the northern part of Nahant proper. ... I never cease to be amazed at how beavers have created a substantial pond on ground that has almost no flow of water. I am very curious to see how this pond will be colonized and used by plants and other animals, as well. This seems to me to be an example of how nature works ... largely outside of human influence. ...

“There are also other fish-free shallow-water excavations that hopefully will become areas that hold and nurture a variety of amphibians, including newts and salamanders. The number of little critters that can be found in the marsh proper is really amazing. ... There are almost always some ducks, geese, herons, or other waterfowl using the marsh. To see a muskrat, beaver, or otter takes quite a bit more luck ... .”

Julie Malake – a photographer, artist, and member of the Friends of Nahant Marsh – offered several examples of repeated, leisurely visits showing different facets of the wetland: “A particularly magical change has been the return of the sandhill cranes,” she wrote. “During the first years of going to the marsh [starting in 2006], I saw no cranes. In the spring of 2011, I first saw a crane at Nahant Marsh, and since then, cranes have been regular visitors. This year, sandhill cranes have been seen frequently, and I’ve been able to observe them often.”

She continued by calling Nahant Marsh “a wild, ever-changing garden full of once-widespread native plants, and [it] is extremely popular with many kinds of birds. ... What they [visitors] might see will vary widely from day to day, even moment to moment. I would also recommend to those who do visit to take their time and be still a while. Chances are good that the marsh’s residents will forget your presence and simply go about their business. There’s always much more going on there than is readily apparent.”

The marsh will be celebrating its 15th anniversary as a nature preserve and education center on October 20 with a 5 to 8 p.m. family event featuring “river rat” Kenny Salwey, musicians Ellis Kell and Kendra Swanson, food, and (hopefully) a classic Nahant Sunset. The celebration will provide a taste of what Malake called “a piece of heaven on earth. I love to walk outdoors before dawn, going down to the water’s edge to sit quietly as all the colors of sunrise slowly paint their way down the bluff and across the water. I have been going there for almost 10 years now, and no two days have ever been the same. In every season, in every weather, in all the different times, there have been images of beauty, and sometimes surprises.”

 
Now That the Magic Has Gone: “Damned City,” Quad Cities Author Matt Hentrich’s Debut Novel PDF Print E-mail
Literature
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 10 September 2015 11:48

In Matthew Hentrich’s novel Damned City, the magic has gone – literally.

The self-published debut novel from the Quad Cities author takes place in a world in which everybody has magical skills – but its hook is that the residents of Spectra have been abruptly robbed of those abilities. There are additional complications for the city: Its highest elected official has been found dead, and it is enveloped in a spell that makes time pass much more slowly than in the rest of the world – making daylight span days. Spectra’s residents are certain that an attack on the city is imminent, and they need to figure out how to defend themselves with their magic gone.

The premise, Hentrich said in a recent phone interview, was a reversal of the typical fantasy what-if of characters having magic. “The one twist I thought I could put on the concept was to go the opposite direction and say, ‘What if you had people who had magic, and now it’s been removed from them?’”

That narrative starting point is plenty clever, and Hentrich is also strong in his pacing, in his management of story rhythm with multiple main characters, and especially in the way he melds disparate elements into a compelling hybrid. His world shares plenty with ours (from coffee and booze to representative government) while still being foreign. (In one nice oddball touch, a city with no need for mechanical transportation finds itself using bears for travel when magic disappears.) The plot brings together fantasy and mystery, and Hentrich trusts readers enough to leave out expository background that would bog down his quick-moving story; everything is familiar enough to grease the path.

 
Bigger Than Baseball: Owner Dave Heller Helps the River Bandits Transcend Sport PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 06 August 2015 05:30

Dave Heller. Photo by Kevin Schafer (KRichardPhoto.com).

It goes without saying that Dave Heller is a baseball guy. He is, after all, the Quad Cities River Bandits’ managing partner, and he has an ownership stake in three other minor-league teams.

He talks about his first ownership experience – as a business partner with legendary players Don Mattingly (Heller calls him “Donnie”) and Cal Ripken Jr. And about road trips to see his baseball idol Tom Seaver when he pitched for the Mets and Red Sox.

When I inquired about his favorite River Bandits player, he quickly answered, “Carlos Correa, without question. ... Great work ethic, great natural ability, great with kids. He’ll be a special star. ... The idea of having an overall number-one pick like Carlos here is really exciting to us. Two years later, and he’s in the major leagues and tearing it up.”

Heller grew up in Baltimore, but he wasn’t an ardent Orioles fan. “I wasn’t passionate about the Birds the way other people were,” he said. “I really kind of just loved baseball writ large. I could watch a Cardinals-Cubs game and enjoy myself every bit as much as watching an Orioles-White Sox game.”

Yet the 53-year-old doesn’t run the River Bandits – or any other team he owns – like a sports enterprise. In an hour-long conversation last week, the game itself felt incidental. Heller said his model for the myriad improvements, additions, and promotions at Modern Woodmen Park during his tenure was “county fairs. ... I think the idea of bringing some of that county-fair atmosphere into a ballpark is really healthy and fun and productive.”

Treating the ballpark like an amusement park might rankle baseball purists, but it’s good business – particularly when one considers that minor-league owners manage the venue and not the team. The goal is to get people through the gates – and all the better if some of them only know ERA as an acronym for the Equal Rights Amendment.

 
Putting the Brakes on Traffic Cameras: The Iowa DOT’s Regulations Are a Good Start, but the Issue Begs for Legislative Action PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 25 June 2015 05:10

Davenport started Iowa’s debate over using cameras to ticket vehicle owners for speeding and running red lights, so it’s appropriate to look at one of its intersections as an illustration of the current situation – 11 years after the city began automated enforcement.

From 2001 to 2004 – before any traffic cameras were installed – Kimberly Road and Elmore Avenue averaged 7.0 red-light broadside crashes per year. From 2011 to 2014 – years when speed and red-light cameras were in operation – it averaged 1.0 red-light crash annually, a drop of 86 percent. The percentage decrease is slightly greater if one only considers red-light crashes in the directions of camera enforcement – east- and west-bound speed and red-light cameras.

From the city’s perspective, this represents clear evidence that the traffic cameras have improved safety at the intersection.

Yet earlier this year, the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) ordered that the City of Davenport turn off traffic cameras at Kimberly and Elmore, which it did in April. While the city presented data on broadside crashes – those in which somebody running a red light was a direct cause of an accident – the state looked at all crashes within 150 feet of the intersection.

And here the picture becomes muddled. In three pre-camera years, total crashes averaged 10.3. The DOT evaluation found 15.5 total crashes per year after camera activation, including 23 in 2013.

Gary Statz, a traffic engineer with the City of Davenport, said those numbers aren’t really in conflict: “In 2013, we had a spike in crashes out there, and I don’t know why, but we just did. So the average of [total crashes] those two years was pretty high, and they came to the conclusion that the cameras weren’t effective ... .

“My argument would be that most of the crashes had nothing to do with the cameras. The red-light crashes were almost nonexistent, but we had a lot of rear-end crashes that were well back from the intersection. Traffic backed up further than people thought, [and they] just weren’t prepared to stop. That seemed to be most of them. ...

“I found the vast majority of the rear-end crashes occurred well back from the intersection” but within 150 feet of it. “We only found three [in 2013] ... that occurred during the yellow or at the beginning of the red. ... When it happens five seconds after it’s red, and it’s 10 car lengths back from the stop bar, you can safely say the camera had nothing to do with it.”

Ultimately, though, the City of Davenport opted not to appeal the DOT’s order at Kimberly and Elmore. “I didn’t really agree with what they said,” Statz said, “but we didn’t argue it.”

This anecdote highlights a few key elements of the present battle over Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE).

 
Funny Businesses: Patrick Adamson, Andrew King, and George Strader Discuss the Area-Comedy Renaissance PDF Print E-mail
Comedy
Written by Mike Schulz   
Thursday, 28 May 2015 06:00

George Strader, Andrew King, and Patrick Adamson“Is that ahi tuna?”

“No. It’s a-ha tuna. This is a comedy interview.”

So went a not-atypical exchange during my recent conversation with area comedians George Strader, Patrick Adamson, and Andrew King. (It was George who asked about the tuna and Patrick who ordered it. If you were wondering, Andrew had a burger.) But while the jokes and laughs tended to come fast and furious during our chat, there was one thing this trio was dead-serious about: The Quad Cities’ comedy scene has, since the beginning of this decade, been enjoying a pretty dramatic renaissance. A pretty inspiring one, too.

 
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