Central Iowa Water Trails

Des Moines, IA | Water


The Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and Central Iowa Water Trails (CIWT) enlisted the design expertise of ISG to participate in a transformative project to turn 150 miles of waterways in central Iowa into a recreation destination, model for conservation, and economic driver for the state.


The Des Moines Area MPO and its implementation partner, Central Iowa Water Trails, received local, state, and federal funding to transform 86 sites along 9 rivers and creeks in central Iowa, with projects that range from improved access, green stormwater infrastructure and streambank restoration, trail connections, public art, and a variety of other amenities that aim to stimulate economic growth and improve water quality across the state.


Building upon the Des Moines Area MPO’s “Water Trails and Greenways Plan” (Plan), ISG was enlisted to facilitate the Plan’s first step—the development of a “Regional Engineering Feasibility Study”. Using recommendations from the Plan, ISG developed a comprehensive, actionable path forward for communities located along the water trails system. For each recommendation, ISG field-verified amenities, developed site plans, conceptual renderings, preliminary cost estimates and construction schedules, and identified potential permitting requirements. The report provided community leaders with the information and resources needed to move forward with the long-range vision of cultivating conservation efforts and recreational opportunities along central Iowa waterways.

Partnering with CIWT and local stakeholders, ISG is currently in phase two of the planning process as water resource experts consider innovative design solutions for this multi-faceted project. Design considerations include long-term functionality of each water way access point, accessibility for people of all abilities, safety and emergency response measures, and upstream and downstream impacts.

Central Iowa Water Trails is a significant initiative and is made possible through collaborative strategic planning and fundraising efforts. Working alongside multiple partners, including the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, Greater Des Moines Partnership, Great Outdoors Foundation, Catch Des Moines, Des Moines Area MPO, municipalities throughout the metro, and Polk County, ISG assisted with identifying and writing grants for local, state, and federal funds, and supported outreach efforts to seek private contributions. To date, capital campaign fundraising strategies have raised over $45 million to realize the project, including $25 million from the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program through the U.S. Department of Transportation and over $20 million in private contributions.

Strong funding commitments have allowed implementation on the development of several access points. ISG provided design and construction oversight for three completed sites, including Beaver Creek - 86th/70th, Raccoon River Park portage, and Four-Mile Creek-Mally's Park, with construction currently underway for a second location in Beaver Creek-Lew Clarkson Park. With the support of the BUILD grant, ISG is in the design phase for three major projects along the Des Moines River: Prospect Park, Birdland Marina, and Harriet Street Corridor, with a focus on improved user access, including ADA compliance, boat launches, fishing nodes, trail connections, public art, water quality and flood resiliency, and interpretive signage.

The Central Iowa Water Trails is a complex economic development and conservation strategy designed to improve the quality of life for the people of Iowa and foster a deeper connection to its natural resources. An evolving collaboration, ISG is excited to be a part of this dynamic legacy project for the state.


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