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Waverly's passion for community improvement

A Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark success story

Three years might seem like a long time for a major road to be under construction. But, it was worth the wait for residents in Waverly, Iowa. In 2019, the city wrapped up a significant construction project that overhauled 28 blocks on Bremer Avenue/Highway 3, which runs through the central business district, across the Cedar River, and past Wartburg College.

Waverly — a lively community just 20 minutes from Cedar Falls and Waterloo — put that main thoroughfare on a “road diet.” This involved moving from four lanes to three, which made more room for pedestrians and bicyclists and decreased the distance needed to cross at various downtown intersections.

The goal? Make downtown safer and more appealing for bicycle and pedestrian traffic. “I think a lot of people don’t realize the health and well-being aspects that come along with traffic calming measures like a road diet,” says Amanda Ramthun, community health specialist at Waverly Health Center.

Ramthun is part of a group of volunteers in Waverly who worked on countless community health improvement projects over the past decade. In 2019, the group joined forces with Healthy Hometown Powered by Wellmark Opens New Window and had a successful year. “It’s been really good for us to see some progress we can measure,” Ramthun says.

Recently, the group worked to make all 21 of Waverly’s parks and trails tobacco- and nicotine-free. They also added new raised beds and apple trees to the existing community gardens and orchard — which grew more than 8,400 pounds of produce in one year.

These projects, along with other improvements, led to Waverly receiving the 2020 Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark Community Award in February. Learn more about what Waverly has been up to — and how they’re hoping to get more residents involved in their community improvement efforts.

Remaking a main street

Busy streets across America are usually that way because they are designed for cars first, not pedestrians or cyclists. Bremer Avenue/Highway 3 in Waverly was no exception. Four lanes of traffic presented challenges for pedestrian traffic and parking, especially in the central business district on the east bank of the Cedar River. In 2015, the Iowa Department of Transportation notified Waverly of plans to completely reconfigure the 28 blocks of Bremer Avenue that stretched across town from west to east. Planning for the project began in 2016 and construction wrapped in 2019.

“We’d had four lanes for quite a while,” says Garret Riordan, director of leisure services for the City of Waverly. “Just going down to three lanes has definitely calmed the traffic and it’s slower through downtown.” In addition to making the area more visually appealing, the reconfiguration created more space for pedestrians and cyclists and a better traffic pattern with fewer crashes, easier left turns and parking, improved emergency response times, and a safer crossing experience. “From everything I’ve seen, it’s been going well for us,” Riordan adds.

While the significant amount of road work was one of the more visible improvements in Waverly over the last few years, other less-visible projects have positively impacted the community as well.

Growing for good

Waverly is home to two community-sharing gardens, including a community orchard, which have a total of 63 raised beds and 62 fruit trees. All the produce and fruit grown in the gardens and orchard goes back into the community through local churches, social service groups and the Northeast Iowa Food Bank. “Five years ago, on our community health needs assessment, we found that a majority of Bremer County residents weren’t getting enough fresh fruits and vegetables,” Lindley Sharp, Bremer County Health Department Administrator, says. “All the produce from our gardens going out into the community is a huge thing.”

The gardens and orchard are all volunteer-driven, with a little labor provided by the city to help them get ready before each growing season. The benefits go beyond growing healthy food and distributing it back into the community. They also provide great opportunities for community members to be physically active, volunteer their time, socialize with others, and play an active role in community improvement.

The gardens have been around for 10 years already, and they continue to grow and positively impact the community. “We plan on adding more raised beds,” Riordan says. “We’re also looking at trying to get some younger people in to volunteer and learn about gardening. We’ll be focusing on different groups at the schools and around town, like Girl Scouts, 4-H and more.”

The ever-growing gardens aren’t the only way Waverly has shown its commitment to creating a healthier future for generations to come.

Clearing the air

It’s no secret: secondhand smoke can be harmful in any amount, even in outdoor areas. Waverly recently implemented a tobacco- and nicotine-free policy covering the 21 parks around town and seven miles of trail system that connect to surrounding communities.

Waverly has previously focused on smoke-free policies for schools and worksites, but in the past year branched out into policies for community events. “We’re trying to focus on targeting more outdoor environments and getting them to be tobacco- and nicotine-free,” Ramthun says. “A lot of that was motivated by the uptick in e-cigarette use, because that’s not really included in the Smoke-Free Air Act.” The idea is that the policy both protects the environment in their community as well as impacting future generations. “If young people are surrounded by environments that are tobacco- and nicotine-free,” Ramthun says, “then they’ll hopefully view that as the norm instead of viewing e-cigarette use as the norm.”

As a result of the new policy, Waverly has heard from several other surrounding communities asking for guidance on how to make the same changes. “I think it created momentum in other communities,” Ramthun says. “It’s really encouraged them and let them know a policy like this is doable and can be accomplished.”

What’s next for Waverly?

As far as the new tobacco- and nicotine-free policy is concerned, Waverly plans to focus on expanding it to multi-unit housing  across Bremer County. And, they’re working to increase the promotion of tobacco-cessation resources and services within the community. “The e-cigarette epidemic is new, and there are a lot of new resources for people looking to quit that specifically,” Ramthun says. “We’re working on a lot of education regarding that, especially for our youth.”

Waverly also wants to enhance its walking school bus programs, implement bike safety instruction in area schools, and improve spaces around the community to increase opportunities for social interaction. A streetscape program for downtown is in the works, too, which will include tree planting, new benches and more to encourage residents to come downtown and stay downtown. “The main thing we hope to see with these projects is connecting people, businesses and places in Waverly, and creating that positive energy so people want to continue to live, visit, learn and play here,” Ramthun says.

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