A Walk through Iowa’s Environmental History

Iowa Culture
Iowa History
2 min readMay 31, 2023

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To truly know someone, one must walk a mile in their shoes. For Kevin Mason, a hands-on historian, walking 371 miles of the Dragoon Trail gave him a better understanding of Iowa’s landscape, past and present.

In 1835, the Dragoons surveyed the Iowa landscape, making detailed observations about the environmental definition of the time period. The landscape, while reminiscent of what Iowans see today, was documented before vast development and agricultural productivity — the native flora and fauna touched by only those native to the land.

The Dragoons’ journey serves as a foundational inspiration for Mason. In 2021, he followed the footing of the Dragoons goal to gather enough first-hand information to write a comparative environmental history on Iowa’s past and present.

“I hoped to get a snapshot of our current moment to compare with the observations of early Iowa recorded by the Dragoons.” Mason said.

After walking 22 days from Fort Dodge to Montrose, he completed an essential hands-on component of his research and will share his insights during the 2023 Preserve Iowa Summit June 1–3 in Sioux City, Iowa.

During a breakout session, he will present “Across Iowa: An Environmental Journey in Time” that highlights key elements of chasing “the Iowa Dragoons up the Des Moines River.” The session will offer an insightful environmental comparison and persuade participants to take a non-traditional approach when looking into the past.

More than a dynamic history lesson, Mason is hoping to encourage summit participants to take note of their native landscape and seek historical understanding in everyday surroundings.

“I continue to encourage Iowans to explore Iowa slowly, with an intentionality, to better understand the world around them,” he said. “I hope summit participants will walk away from the session inspired to get out and explore the past and present of our state in person.”

– Meghan Anderson, State Historical Society of Iowa

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Iowa Culture
Iowa History

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs empowers Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to resources. iowaculture.gov