Although much of the media attention following Don Canney’s death focused on his many achievements in the urban part of Cedar Rapids, he also had an amazing impact on open space, flood reduction, and the Indian Creek Nature Center.
In 1968, the City received a massive grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development that was matched by local taxpayers to purchase about 1000 acres of flood prone land now known as the Greenbelt. The idea was to buy this land and keep it as open space. When the river was high, this low land would fill with water but since no development was permitted, there would be no homes, schools or businesses damaged. The Greenbelt also became the location of the Sac and Fox, Iowa’s first national recreation trail; and the sewer leading to the then new water pollution control facility was built through the Greenbelt, enabling Cedar Rapids to more effectively cleanse waste water. Portions of the Greenbelt were leased to the infant Indian Creek Nature Center in 1973.
As mayor, Don supported these innovative and forward-thinking initiatives, and residents today enjoy the dividends. Often he worked in the background and let others receive credit.
Don was a welcoming and genuinely friendly man. When Marion and I moved here from Kansas in 1978, I called his office to introduce myself. I expected a secretary to answer the phone, but he did. When I explained that we had just moved to Cedar Rapids, he said, “Then I want to meet you. Please come to my office.” We did and had a pleasant chat. He seemed delighted that we had come to Cedar Rapids. For the remainder of the time he served as mayor, he supported the Nature Center and was always encouraging.