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Water Trails in DSM USA - A Reason for Hope

Greater Des Moines (DSM) Water Trails a Reason for Hope

July 20, 2018

As I sat in the Des Moines Register’s public space listening to Jay Byers, Rick Tollakson and others speak on The Dam Plan and to the transformational potential that an implemented water trails system would have for Greater Des Moines (DSM), I couldn’t help but reflect on what an amazing opportunity it has been to be part of this vision, to be part of the energy moving this closer to reality. 

Exploring DSM’s water trails

Over the last 18 months, I and other members of the ISG team have paddled and hiked the 150+ miles of rivers and creeks throughout the region, from Van Meter to Carlisle, from Chichaqua Bottoms to Lake Red Rock and everywhere in between. We investigated the riparian corridors, trying to determine where along the channels and throughout the floodplains were the best locations for communities to implement improvements. Our goal was to identify the spots that best allowed cities to reimagine, reclaim and reconnect their towns to our region’s greatest natural resource.

A deep connection

During our time on the water we met other paddlers, boaters, anglers, hikers, bird watchers and waders, and without fail, each talked about their connection to the water and the innately rejuvenating effects of being immersed in their nature, for these waters were theirs. They were personal, and they were intimate, and the connection between the user and the system was profound. As we discussed what we were doing on the river and the plans to improve the waterways, you could see hopefulness and excitement come into their faces. It was during these interactions that I became aware that what was taking place was not only good, but necessary in order to expand these opportunities to the metro as a whole. 

A vision for the future

So, as I sat listening to the presentation with pride and excitement I began to envision children walking down to the banks of Beaver Creek and finding a welcoming, intentional space for them to interact with the waters. I envisioned a grandfather standing alongside his young granddaughter on a recently installed outcropping, watching them cast their fishing lines into a restored section of Middle River. As their bobbers played in the running water, I pictured him reflecting on the first time he had experienced that very same river years ago when he was her age and being lost in the continuity of shared time through nature. I imagined the parking stalls at the newly constructed boat ramps and canoe launches filled with SUVs and mini vans with license plates from California, Colorado, Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina — cars sporting kayak racks and filled with families on their summer vacations that decided to come to DSM and experience the long, urban paddles and the electrifying rapids that they had heard so much about in their travel magazines or television shows. I imagined taking my family and my three young children on a picnic to a park in Ankeny or Urbandale or Altoona, picturing them taking their shoes and socks off, rolling up the legs of their pants and running into the cool waters to play with the children that were already there.

Ultimately a city or a town is only as good as what its members work for it to be. I feel fortunate to live in an area where the communities work tirelessly to adapt, evolve and improve — there are examples of that happening in every corner of DSM and none more so than what is transpiring along our rivers and creeks. 

Described as the “most transformational quality-of-life project of our generation,” the Greater Des Moines Water Trails and Greenways Master Plan is a road map for enhancing experiences in and along 150 miles of waterways in Greater Des Moines (DSM).