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For those who remember long road trips and family vacations, the “sport” of highpointing is a return to those days. Highpointing involves visiting the places of highest elevations of the 50 states.

Aficionados include retirees, young adventurers, and families with children.

The state highpoints range from Denali Peak, Alaska, at 20,320 feet above sea level, to the lowest highpoint — Lakewood Park, Florida, at 345 feet. Closer to Florida than Alaska in elevation is Iowa’s Hawkeye Point. Hawkeye Point, located in Osceola County in northwestern Iowa, is 1,670 feet above sea level, and, unsurprisingly, located at the edge of a cornfield on a farm.

Hawkeye Point, at the end of a water trough, was marked with an engraved stone and had a bench for resting after your “climb” from the driveway. Owners Merrill and Donna Sterler asked that you call before visiting, but if you just stopped by they didn’t mind. They fed people, rescued the stranded, and welcomed visitors from far away.

After Merrill Sterler’s death, the point, house, and seven acres were sold to Osceola County. An additional 15 acres was bought for a campground area, according to the Economic Development Office. Officials are planning approximately $2 million in improvements, including an honor-system campground, parking, extension service space, an interpretive center, and an observation tower.

The cost will be paid by private donations through a 501(c)(3) foundation. The first phase, a campground with restroom and shower facilities, is estimated at $100,000, and won’t be built until the foundation raises the money.

In the meantime, the Osceola County population continues to fall from a 1940 high of 10,607 to the current low of 6,344. The unemployment rate is around 6 percent. Many Iowa counties are in similar situations, their populations aging and dying, their children leaving, and their communities struggling. Tourism is one solution. The 100-plus participants of the recent Highpointers Club three-day annual convention in Mississippi spent more than $60,000, and more than 20,000 people around the United States actively engage in highpointing.

Hawkeye Point is being promoted at the local level, by local taxes. FFA and 4-H kids have been extensively involved. Last May, they, their leaders, and community volunteers repaired, power-washed, and repainted the corncrib and removed old fences and overgrown trees, then constructed an informational sign, including a “Wall of Recognition” for those donating $50 or more.

The project has not been pushed by the state. In fact, Osceola County turned down Iowa Great Places involvement because of restrictive requirements. It is an example of local action, supported by local people, making their lives better. We wish them well. Family road trip, anyone?

Deborah Thornton is a research analyst for the Public Interest Institute, a Mount Pleasant-based nonprofit research group. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Public Interest Institute.

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