Do you remember the fury (not to mention disbelief) in 2003 over Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley’s $50 million appropriation for a five-acre enclosed rainforest in rural Iowa?

Grassley added the $50M to the Omnibus Appropriations Bill in late Jan. 2004, says Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW). The $320 million (est.) project, yet to break ground, now needs $20 million from the state, reports the Star Tribune, which has some humorous quotes about the project:
Some of the choice Star Tribune quotes from project naysayers:

Some skeptics contend that expense would be risky, even foolish, for Iowa. They say an out-of-place ecosystem is unlikely to beckon big crowds from the Midwest and beyond to Coralville, especially in winter.

“Iowa has gotten too caught up in the ‘Field of Dreams’ movie — that ‘if you build it, they will come’ mentality,” said Nicholas Johnson, a University of Iowa law professor who has questioned the project. “The attendance projections are totally unrealistic. Coralville ain’t Las Vegas.”


Johnson, the law professor, said that expecting well over a million people a year to pay $15 each [the projected admission fee] to visit a rainforest in a small Iowa town hours from the kind of big-city amenities tourists crave is wildly optimistic. Johnson also contends that many of the 45,000 vehicles that pass the proposed site daily are commercial trucks in a hurry.

“This could become a monument to our stupidity,” he said.


Even if they raise all the money they need, advocates of the rainforest will have to wrestle with other strange and difficult challenges before it opens.

To name one: getting Amazonian trees planted in Iowa.

The plan, [Nancy} Quellhorst (director of operations] said, is to buy them from tree farms in Florida and bring them by barge up the Mississippi River.

She also will have to round up scores of animal and plant species that flourish in a rainforest — without plucking them from existing rainforests.

“There’s so much detail involved in this, you wouldn’t believe it,” Quellhorst said.

More on the plans for the Iowa rainforest:

In the next few years, this small town near Iowa City could become the incongruous home of the world’s largest enclosed rainforest, spread over 4.5 acres and soaring nearly 20 stories high, with a curving translucent dome designed to shed snow and walls built to withstand tornadoes.

It would look like a giant caterpillar. And the bold vision behind it is being billed as Iowa’s salvation.


The rainforest would be part of a 30-acre interactive science center featuring nature trails, an aquarium and theater, and multimedia exhibits on the environment. It would house towering tropical trees and an array of exotic animal and plant species. It also would rely on clean and renewable sources of energy, such as sunlight, and use cutting-edge technologies to capture and conserve water. Admission would be about $15.

Who knows. It could all work out for Iowa and become a big draw.

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