A skirmish with Missouri and hidden orbs? What are the Villages of Van Buren?

Villages of Van Buren. Photo depicts the bridge into Keosauqaua.

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You may have heard of The Villages of Van Buren, but what is it exactly? Is it a town? A county? An entertainment destination? Not quite. Emily Starnes, the executive director, explained the background of the area, and told the story of when Missouri threatened to invade Iowa over honey trees. (Iowa won)

The Villages of Van Buren is actually 11 small towns with a combined population of just over 7,000 in Van Buren county. Not only is the area focused on nature, with lots of trails and a 9000 acre forest, but it’s home to many artisans and has the oldest courthouse in continuous use, west of the Mississippi River.

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Emily Starnes Interview Summary

Emily Starnes with Justin Brady in the studio.

Starnes highlighted the area’s focus on tourism and economic development, describing it as a “combination of history, lots of outdoor recreational activities, and a lot of artists.” She highlighted the area’s burgeoning artist community, and how they offer a variety of outdoor activities and historical sites. A new trend The Villages of Van Buren have been seeing is the attraction of a younger demographic looking for a quieter, more peaceful area to live in.

The executive director also mentioned the area’s rich natural resources, including the Lacey Keosauqua State Park, which spans over 1,600 acres and offers 13 miles of trails. The park is part of a larger ecosystem that includes Lake Sugema and Shimek State Forest, making the area a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.

Amish and Mennonite Communities in Iowa

Starnes also touched on the area’s Amish and Mennonite communities, adding another layer of cultural diversity. She noted that the Villages of Van Buren is home to a variety of artisans, from painters and sculptors to blacksmiths and rug weavers. The Village Folk School offers classes in these crafts, as well as in foraging and other outdoor activities.

The Hotel Manning

The Hotel Manning, a community-owned hotel built in the 1800s that has been recently renovated. It is a staple in the community and represents the collective efforts of over 80 private investors who contributed to its preservation.

Villages Orb Project

A handmade orb for The Villages Orb Project.

Starnes explained the full background behind the Villages Orb Project, detailing there are 103 orbs hidden in the area, waiting to be found. Last year a total of 46 out of 52 were discovered and registered. This year, 64 of the total 103 have already been found.

Overall, Starnes painted a picture of a community that is both rooted in history and looking toward the future, offering a diverse range of activities and cultural experiences for both residents and visitors.


Photo Credit: The Villages of Van Buren

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