‘Dam-Less’ Downtown River Proposal Still Asking for Feedback

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DES MOINES, Iowa - Tubing, kayaking, boating - you name it, and the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is envisioning it.

"Don't we want something better for our downtown Des Moines? And not just make [the rivers] safe, but actually open them up for recreational use downtown," said Teva Dawson, a senior planner with the Des Moines Area MPO. "So that someday, we all could be tubing in downtown Des Moines."

Dawson and her colleagues were hired by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to come up with a plan to transform 150 miles of waterways in Central Iowa into "water trails" - complete with "launch spots" where residents and tourists alike can enjoy a variety of water recreation. To do it, the group says the dams throughout downtown Des Moines need to be mitigated.

"And we're not just looking at paddling, we're looking at fishing nodes, and bird-watching areas, and places just to allow you to get down into the creek and muck around, if you just want to get your feet wet and play around a little bit," she said.

In this early stage Dawson calls "visioning," the possibilities are endless. The Des Moines Area MPO is seeking feedback from residents on what they want out of their rivers; a Dam Debate held last Tuesday gathered feedback from more than 200 attendants, and an online survey is still active for more input until June, when a draft proposal will be put together.

"And really now, it's saying, 'What do you want to do downtown,'" Dawson said. "Do you want to be able to motorboat downstream up to the ballpark, or do you want whitewater experience? Do you want a naturalized looking channel, or do you want something more formal? So really, now is the time to help shape what is the feel you want to have."

It's an effort Dawson says will require everyone to be on board with; the 150-mile stretch of rivers affected would need cooperation from multiple cities and jurisdictions. Furthermore, support from the local business community is vital. But given the success a paved bike trail system in Central Iowa has garnered, Dawson says she's confident it won't be too hard to bring people to the table.

"So, much like the trail system - we couldn't imagine, 20 years ago, what the paved trail system would do for tourism, and just general quality of life - impacting quality of life for residents; we really think the water trail system will have the same impact," she said.

A draft proposal in June will be tweaked with more public feedback through the summer, with a final proposal - complete with cost estimates and timelines - coming out sometime this fall.

"We have river roots," Dawson said. "Des Moines really exists because we are at the confluence of two rivers, and it's time for us to really take on that river history and bring us back to our sense of being a river town."

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