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Project Spotlight: Jester Park

Jester Park Nature Center in DSM USA

June 27, 2017

A New Nature Center

In partnership with the Great Outdoors Foundation, Polk County Conservation is pleased to announce a boon to Iowa's economy through the Jester Park Nature Center project. This $10 million project, which broke ground in March, will be a key attraction in Greater Des Moines’ (DSM’s) year-round playground destination at Jester Park. The 17,000 square-foot facility, designed by RDG Planning and Design, will open in the summer of 2018 to the public. In addition, an adjacent Outdoor Recreation and Wellness Center will boast 6,000 square feet. Attendance to Jester Park is expected to double to more than one million visitors annually with the opening of the new Nature Center and adjacent Outdoor Recreation and Wellness Center. Two new positions are expected to be created when the Center opens, as well as multiple seasonal and intern positions.

Half of the funds for the project came from the Polk County Water and Land Legacy Bond, and much of the remaining portion came from private funders. 

Natural Environment to Appeal to Visitors

Jester Park Nature Center will include classrooms as well as environmental education displays developed by Splitrock Studios. Equipment rentals for fishing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing will be available. The Center will serve as a portal to Polk County's family of parks and Jester Park's new front porch for one million annual visitors. Tourists, students, educators, families and others will connect through this Center to the natural playscape and bison/elk exhibit, restored woodlands, Saylorville Lake and a network of nature trails immersing visitors back into nature. 

Outdoor nature-based recreation has become one of the largest industries in Iowa with our natural areas as vital components of the economy. With potential employees and entrepreneurs basing job choices on available outdoor opportunities, businesses benefit from accessible quality parks, trails and outdoor recreation available for their employees. It was also found from a survey conducted by the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau that 62 percent of visitor respondents noted outdoor activities and parks as a preferred interest. 

The benefits of outdoor recreation to the health and well-being of our community are well known, however, outdoor recreation is just beginning to be recognized as an important economic development tool that brings tremendous value to our community. For example, Polk County has supported bike trail connections and trailheads that have helped businesses develop along the trails. The High Trestle Trail is an example where we have seen businesses capture the increased interest in biking and the region is actively working on a plan to open up the rivers for more accessible recreation that is certain to bring economic growth. With anticipated doubled attendance, the new Nature Center will be a leader in furthering the outdoor recreation industry throughout the region.

This Center will create a positive influence on the surrounding community. With a population that is expected to grow by as much as 50 percent within the next 35 years, development of a facility that will provide immersion into wild places and unparalleled opportunities to interact with the outdoors is key not only to healthy minds and bodies, but also to a robust economy.

Love being outdoors? Learn more about outdoor recreation and trails.