New Mountain Bike Park on Des Moines’ Eastern Border
Like many areas in the country, trail usage in Polk County Conservation (PCC) areas has nearly doubled since 2020. This growth has created crowded trailheads and indicated an obvious need for more trails. The proposed mountain bike park on Des Moines’ eastern border will be a four-mile, soft-surface trail system north of Copper Creek Lake Park. The trails will be classified as bike-optimized. That means the trails will be designed for mountain biking, but can be used by everyone. The features will be easily navigated over or around, by foot or wheels. You can expect to see the trail system utilized by bikers, hikers, walkers, bird watchers, trail runners and more. Even in the winter, the trails will be in use by fat-tire bikers. This trail system will provide recreation for every level of rider and activities for a variety of users in Greater Des Moines (DSM). The acreage is surrounded by neighborhoods and connects via a paved trail to a shopping area, providing easy access for the community.
Growing Recreational Space in DSM
Iowa ranks near the bottom of all 50 states in terms of the amount of recreational land available to the public. The new mountain bike park will provide a space for the community to escape to nature, all within a few miles of the heart of Des Moines. Not only does this area provide outdoor recreation for a community that has little green space, but it will serve as a large conservation education area with rain gardens, timber stand improvement areas, invasive species removal, interpretive conservation signs and wetlands to assist with water drainage. By combining conservation and recreation, this future park will truly speak to PCC’s mission of providing quality outdoor recreation and the long-term protection of green spaces for the citizens of Polk County. PCC is working to create integrated trails and green spaces that will serve as recreation and conservation areas for the entire community
The 50-acre property, owned by PCC, presents a unique opportunity to meld green infrastructure best management practices with active, community recreation. The overall forest/land condition, gentle grades and proximity to a floodplain are great combinations for a one-of-a-kind symbiosis of recreation and green infrastructure. Can you imagine a pump track that also functions as a rain garden? Native grasses, forbs and flowers on the backsides of berms and sides of rollers or jumps? Invasive forest understory species eradicated and new native understory and oak trees planted to recreate the historical oak savannahs of Polk County? Permeable rock slab armoring draining to swales?
Features and amenities will include four-plus miles of bike-optimized trails, pump track and skills area (pending fundraising success), a new trailhead for the Gay Lea Wilson Trail, dedicated lighted parking lot, modern restroom facilities and stream stabilization and land management practices that promote native species and mitigate water runoff.
Park design should be completed by the end of this year. PCC has secured $1.2 million in grants or bond funds. The total project cost is estimated at $2.2 million. That means fundraising and grant applications will continue through 2023. PCC is hopeful that construction on all or some of the project elements can begin during the summer of 2023 and open to the public by the fall of 2023.
Learn more about PCC at polkcountyiowa.gov.
Whether it’s a morning on the lake or an evening spent exploring Greater Des Moines’ (DSM’s) 800 miles of connected recreational trails, the region has many outdoor options.
Kami Rankin is the Deputy Director for Polk County Conservation and has been with the organization for 24 years. Her first 23 years were spent as the Community Outreach Supervisor and now she serves in the Deputy Director role.