Once upon a time, in a somewhat heated but of course entirely civil comment section, I was told editorial cartoons and other opinion content were well beneath the former Spirit Lake Beacon, because its staff "had more class and intellect to know to keep a local paper unbiased." Putting aside the fundamental purpose of an opinion page and how it relates to bias, I knew very well that claim couldn't be true. You see, at that time I'd already begun squirreling away digital copies of the Beacon's opinion pages — specifically the ones with editorial cartoons. I've found 92 to date during my weekly searches — and yes, I'm the kind of guy who finds that stuff fun.
And of course it wasn't just the Beacon. I've found editorial cartoons in archives of the Milford Mail, the Lake Park News, the Terril Record and in early editions of the DCN too — which some may not realize was born when all of those separate local newspapers decided to combine into a single publication (ever wonder why our front page has a lighthouse? — think Beacon). I've found a cartoon in the Beacon from as early as 1872, and there's one that ran in the DCN after Howard Dean's televised 'yyyyawwwwrr' that still makes me laugh some 17 years after the fact.
Now, I know few are as interested in the visual portion of the opinion page as I am. But it's been on my mind these last few weeks because, when I was told the Beacon had too much class to run such things, it just so happened that the most recent cartoon I'd added to my little collection was about Highway 71 — a topic of some concern earlier this month.
What I found was a cartoon that was produced in-house (at least I hope it was in-house given its quality) for the Beacon in September of 1978, and it criticized a proposal to make Highway 71 four lanes.
Today, as many know, a different proposal lies before the residents of Dickinson County. The Iowa Department of Transportation wants to — at the request of locals several years ago, they say — resurface a good stretch of the highway since problems with the concrete from 20 years ago have led to regular patching issues.
And I'm sure I like regular patching work as much as the next guy.
It was suggested by some during a recent meeting with the DOT that perhaps doing nothing would be preferable to temporarily closing portions of the highway outside the area economy's summer sweet spot for a few years. The concern of course is what clogged traffic and detours will do to our local businesses — particularly ones that are still recovering from the shutdowns COVID-19 brought them in 2020.
Obviously businesses are pretty important in a place that literally doubles its population during the summer months.
"Businesses" was also one of the words about to be eaten by the 1978 Beacon's monstrous steamroller (well, I'm sure it was meant to be monstrous, but honestly it's just barely alarming). Along with "business" came "lakes," "trees," "homes," "front yards," "pedestrians," "bicycles" and "speed" — which I'm not sure how to interpret (like, is the steamroller eating speed and the four-lane is going to slow traffic down or were four lanes going to tempt people to speed more? Because if the latter, the steamroller should have been spitting that particular word or belching it out an exhaust pipe or something — anyway).
But here's the part I think is most relevant to the highway project at hand. The question "Is there a better way?" was tucked up into the corner of that cartoon, and that's also what folks were trying to figure out the other week with the DOT.
I don't even remember how many variations of the DOT's proposed options were thrown out there by the audience and, to me at least, that would seem to be an indicator that many in the community are willing to go ahead with the proposal so long as an agreeable solution can be found.
A yes-but-not-yet sort of situation.
Now, I'm told some highway businesses did get a good chunk eaten by that steamroller, which probably made said business owner's upset. At the same time, the community has adjusted and has gained some benefit from the changes. It's hard to imagine Highway 71 without a center lane for emergency vehicles to zip up and down during a crisis, but it obviously wasn't always that way. At the very least, our community is better off in that way than it was in the past. I'd imagine something similar may be said once we don't have to put a proverbial bandaid on our community's central artery every year or two — if not more often.
The issue is how we get to the solution.
So, I say we keep participating. Keep talking with your local officials. Keep attending the DOT's meetings and take note of the options as plans develop from community input.
Change often comes one way or another in life. And while the Lakes Area communities can't and won't stay the same forever, hopefully a group effort can change them for the better in the best possible way.