The river corridors in Polk County are a popular outdoors recreation destination. Everyone views them differently. For some, they are a bike path. For others, the river is a place to fish. For others, the river corridors are a place to view wildlife and hike or mountain bike on unpaved trails in a wild setting. Others like to row a scull or dip a paddle. The metropolitan area is fortunate in that most of the river banks are in public ownership, with large tracts of river-bottom greenbelt. Since 2002 Iowa Whitewater Coalition and its partners advocate "polishing the jewel" to ensure recognition of the Des Moines and Raccoon river corridors as a recreational destination, and to create a world-class whitewater course in downtown Des Moines.
Click to see the Reconnecting Our Rivers video that Iowa Whitewater Coalition produced in 2005.
That vision has been advanced with tremendous work by the Iowa DNR, the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and many concerned citizens and stake holders. The Greater Des Moines Water Trails and Greenways Master PlanGreater Des Moines Water Trails and Greenways Master Plan was adopted by unanimous vote of the MPO Policy Committee in November 2016. The water trails plan provides the region a road-map for enhancing citizen experiences in and along the 150 miles of waterways in Greater Des Moines.
Re-greening Blighted Areas
Plantings of native trees, shrubs, and grasses will have numerous positive effects:
- Beautify the banks as seen from rivers
- Mask view of unsightly brownfield and industrialized areas near the river
- Create an "audio shield" around the river, reducing industry/traffic noise
- Stabilize stream banks, minimizing erosion
- Create new wildlife habitat, linking existing large swaths of forest along river corridors
Creating Top-notch Water Trails
Creating highly accessible water trails will promote river recreation.
- Signage and clear maps will denote distance between accesses
- Kiosks with historical and ecological details will enrich the river experience
- Restroom facilities at each access are necessary in an urban environment
- Awareness of a great resource will be increased!
Retrofitting Low-head Dams Into Rapids
In 2005 Iowa Whitewater Coalition proposed that Iowa should begin the movement to literally reconnect rivers - right here in Polk County.
- The abrupt and uniform drops of low-head dams create hydraulics ("boils") below them - extremely dangerous for anglers and canoeists. Five people have drowned at Des Moines area dams since 2002.
- Neighboring states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois) have taken the lead in either demolishing or retrofitting low-head dams into rapids. There are no known cases in which someone has died at human engineered rapids in the United States. Lawsuits have been filed, with settlements resulting, in three cases after new low-head dam construction.
- Low-head dams block fish migration. Rapids not only allow fish to migrate, but create new habitat for rock-dwelling game fish species such as smallmouth bass and walleye - and possibly for endangered mussels.
- Des Moines Water Works has legitimate needs to maintain or raise water levels at several points on the Raccoon and Des Moines River. It should do so by creating permanent rapids structures - not low-head dams or flashboard "bladder dams."
- 80 percent of Principal Riverwalk survey respondents in 2002 said they wanted better access to the water itself. 63 percent indicated they wanted access with paddle craft.
- A pool must be maintained at the Center Street Dam for rowers and power boaters that use Birdland Marina. The only safe alternative to allow paddling access and recreation downtown is a rapids, or a perhaps a series of minor rapids.
- Numerous whitewater features will create a whole new form of water recreation in Polk County. Whitewater courses have demonstrated economic and quality-of-life benefits. According to the Denver Post, June 2, 2003: "The city of Golden, which boasts the state's most popular playpark, credits the park with attracting 45,000 users and pumping $23 million into the economy in three years."