December Opening Planned For New Northbound I-29 Rest Area In Mills County

The new building under construction on the right will replace the structure on the left built nearly 50 years ago on the northbound Interstate 29 rest area in Mills County.

Dry weather over the past year has helped keep the construction process on track at the new rest area site.

Workers pave the trails at the northbound I-29 rest area.

Photo taken earlier this fall of the entry way to the rest area building under construction on northbound Interstate 29 in Mills County.

Motorists traveling through Mills County during next month’s holiday season will have a new rest area to stop at on Interstate 29.

The Iowa Department Of Transportation (IDOT) is targeting the second week of December for a soft opening at the new northbound I-29 rest area in Mills County.

IDOT Rest Area Adminstrator Steve McMenamin said despite material shortages and price increases along the way, the construction process has been a relatively smooth one. Work at the site began in 2021.

“Things are going really,” McMenamin said. “I’m really happy with the progress and the contractor (Omaha-based Meco-Henne Contracting). This is the first time I’ve worked with them. I’ve done 20 rest areas in my time and they’ve really done a nice job out there.”

The new rest area will replace an outdated facility that was constructed in 1974, following the opening of Interstate 29 in western Iowa. There will be added green space, picnicking areas and parking stalls and like all new rest areas being built in Iowa, the new facility in Mills County will also be a celebration of local history and landscape.

Motorists who stop at the rest area will encounter panels depicting the culture and symbology of the native people and animals that once occupied the area. The Mills County site will pay homage to the Native American culture that called the area home 1200 to 1350 AD. Often referred to as the Glenwood people of the Central Plains tradition, they settled in the area in their earthen-walled lodge homes and farmed far before the arrival of settlers.

The facility’s outdoor learning areas will have panels depicting the language and culture of the Glenwood people as well as local flora and fauna.

“It’s got some nice features there,” McMenamin said. “A lot of artwork inside and some outside and you’re right at the base of the Loess Hills. It will be educational. We do that with all of them any more. It adds a little cost to the project but it keeps people there a little longer. They spend a little more time here before they get back on the interstate. It’s a good deal – it really is.”

McMenamin said the only stipulations the IDOT has for the artwork being displayed at its rest areas is that it not be too abstract or complicated for visitors to understand and it has to be “cleanable.”

Iowa State Rep. David Sieck has long been a supporter of the rest area project. In an interview with The Opinion-Tribune in 2021, when the project commenced, he said  the rest area will connect Mills County’s cultural past to its present and future.

“Mills County has had more Native American artifacts that any other area of the state so I think that plays in really good to what we have over here,” Sieck said.

The Mills County facility will be part of the IDOT’s “New Generation” of rest areas, a program that was initiated in the 1990s to replace the outdated buildings that were built across the state in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

“Those small buildings were never, ever designed for the kind of traffic we get now on the interstate system,” McMenamin said.

All of the “New Generation” rest areas in Iowa celebrate local history with a specific theme, ranging from Grant Wood’s famous “American Gothic” painting in Linn County, to wagon trail history and wind farms in Adair County and Lewis and Clark’s Corp Of Discovery Expedition in Woodbury County. McMenamin said the new Mills County rest area will be a good fit with the others.

“I really like the project. It adds a lot to our rest area program,” he said. “We get compliments from all over the United States about the rest areas and how we’ve really brought a lot more attention to them. They’re not just a place to go to the bathroom, they’re more than that.”

An “open house” at the new I-29 rest area will likely be scheduled for late December or early January, McMenamin said, and he encourages Mills County residents to check out the facility after it opens.

McMenamin confirmed that replacement of the southbound I-29 rest area in Mills County is also on IDOT’s radar, but likely won’t happen for a few years down the road.

“There’s a couple projects going on over there,” he said. “They want to expand the truck parking on that southbound side right away. We do have a rest area program there but it’s not right away.”

Sieck said he’d like to see the southbound rest area possibly be themed around the area’s role in American history, including the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Underground Railroad and Mormon Trail.

Both McMenamin and Sieck said they expect recreational bicycle trails to connect to the Mills County rest areas at some point in the future.

The Opinion-Tribune

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