Experience a Unique Sense of Place in Mills County
7 Apr 2020
Mills County occupies the southwest corner of Iowa, known for a unique combination of natural features, desirable amenities and friendly, enterprising residents.
“We really have the best of both worlds here,” said Monica Mayberry, a resident of Glenwood. “We live in a laid-back, rural setting, with the care and proximity of nearby metro areas.”
The most well-known attraction is the Wabash Trace Nature Trail, a converted railroad right-of-way running 63 miles with 72 bridges. Beginning in Council Bluffs and running through Mills County to the Missouri border, the trail is mostly crushed limestone, with the exception of a few paved portions. Thousands of people from well beyond county limits visit the trail each year to walk, bike, wheelchair, ski or snowshoe through the countryside.
The most famous aspect of that countryside is the Loess Hills, mounds of fine soil at heights of 200-300 feet. The windblown soils are common, but the unique heights and characteristics of the hills are only found in southwest Iowa and northern China.
Glenwood is the seat and largest city in Mills County, with over 5,000 residents. Mayberry is just one of those residents actively involved in the town.
“We are all very active in creating a community where we are proud to raise our kids,” she said. “We have an excellent downtown, a top-notch school district, a vibrant faith community and people absolutely love getting outside here.”
Glenwood Square is a hub of downtown activity, said Mayberry. The Loess MakerSpace is a business where anyone can learn new skills like woodworking or stained glass creation. Juniper Metal Works, owned and operated by professional goldsmith jeweler Amber Landolt, offers in-house jewelry repair and custom design, along with handmade art and gifts from local artisans.
Just outside the downtown area is Glenwood Lake Park, home of the Mills County Museum and the Davies Amphitheater. The venue has been providing unique, family-friendly outdoor summer entertainment with regional artists like Tara Vaughn and Billy McGuigan for 35 years. Every Fourth of July, the city holds a Blues, Brews & BBQ Festival at the amphitheater. Nearly a dozen churches of a wide variety of denominations and non-denominations exist in the city too.
“We often work together with each other, taking care of our community,” said Mayberry.
Glenwood offers plenty of active-lifestyle opportunities as well. The 53-acre Pony Creek Park offers camping and hiking trails through both restored and native prairie. The city built a new aquatics center five years ago and a new activities complex opened in the fall of 2019, available to local schools and community members for a wide range of sports and activities. For more information on Glenwood, go to cityofglenwood.org or glenwoodia.com.
Malvern is a town of 1,100 people, just an easy 15-minute drive east on Highway 34 from Glenwood. The Wabash Trace Nature Trail runs through town and is a popular waystop for bicyclists.
“The Wabash Trace Nature Trail is a bloodline for tourism in Malvern,” said Tina Bakehouse, Chief Creative Officer with Malvern Bank. “Our wonderful downtown area is only a block or two from the trail.”
Bakehouse highlights the downtown Malvern amenities as ‘artfully growing.’ Three local art galleries and a pocket park along Main Street offer an excellent picnic lunch area. Outdoor art, such as several metal trees designed by artist Woody Jones, highlight the area.The shops Pretty Little Things and The Wine Room share a building and showcase local artist’s work and wine sampling. Summer Saturday nights bring folks from as far as Omaha to view live bands at the Malvern Concert Series and Market. The nearby restaurants of C & M’s Cafe, Classic Cafe and Moreau’s Backerei & Pizzeria offer a range of culinary delights.
Malvern maintains a focus on providing conveniences for locals and visitors alike. Mulholland’s Grocery is one of the oldest grocery stores in the county and has won several Iowa awards. It specializes in homemade meats and unique customer service, which has been essential during the COVID-19 crisis, offering curb-side grocery dropoff for customers. The Malvern Bank has supported the community in a number of regards since 1892 and the local library offers programming well past the typical book provisions.
Outdoor recreation exists beyond the Wabash Trace Nature Trail as well. Boehner Pond sits at the West side of the town, just off the trail and offers camping and fishing. South of town is the nine-hole public Fairview Hills Golf Course and the Mills County Fairgrounds, which is the site of the annual Mills County Fair. For more information on Malvern, go to malvernia.com.
“You’ll find a personal touch in Malvern and across Mills County,” said Bakehouse. “I’ve found there is a real advantage to living somewhere where everyone knows your name.”
Greater Mills County
Mills County has many other small communities matching the amenities of Malvern and Glenwood. Parks, lakes, wildlife areas and forests cover over 1,700 acres across the county, providing a multitude of opportunities to get outdoors. Several towns incorporate the Wabash Trace Nature Trail into daily life. The town of Mineola is nationally known for a weekly “Taco Ride” where bicyclists ride into town on the trail to enjoy fresh tacos from establishments like Tobey Jack’s Steak House. And Silver City is popular with trail enthusiasts for the specialty foods businesses and local wineries.
“People here work hard to provide entertainment, conveniences and recreation to make our place in Iowa,” said Bakehouse. “Our county is mostly small businesses and what they offer helps us stand apart from other areas.”