D.M. panel approves $28M river recreation project

By: - June 15, 2021 2:05 pm
The Des Moines River in downtown Des Moines serves as a water supply and a growing recreational draw.

Des Moines Water Works is eyeing a $50 million expansion that would include wells along the Des Moines River north of downtown. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A $28 million conversion of Des Moines’ Scott Avenue dam into a kayaking and fishing area won approval of a city design panel Tuesday.

Work is expected to begin in July 2022 and will take two years, city planners told the Urban Design Review Board.

The Scott Avenue project is the largest of the initial four projects in the planned water trails development downtown and one of the first to use part of a $25 million federal grant arranged by Central Iowa Water Trails and the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The others, approved earlier, are at Prospect and Birdland parks and near Harriett Street. The biggest project, at the Center Street Dam near the new Lauridsen Skatepark and the Women of Achievement Bridge, will come later. 

Scott Avenue is just below the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers in downtown Des Moines. Plans call for three “drop-offs” for kayaking, a fish passage, a secondary dam to improve safety, and seating in areas near the river. Some changes along the river bank will be designed to make it easier to get kayaks in and out of the water, and will help improve fishing access, city officials said. 

Part of the existing dam would be removed, but much of it would be flooded over by changes in the river.

Areas for kayaking and canoeing are part of the plans for the Scott Avenue Dam area. (Screen capture from Urban Design Review Board via RDG)

The project is part of a $100 million-plus regional effort to improve safety by replacing or changing low-head dams while improving recreation. Center Street Dam has been the site of at least 18 fatalities. 

Tuesday’s discussion centered around using limestone, granite or other natural materials for stabilization and for decor. Prairie plantings and lawn grasses are planned in various areas, too. 

“As much as we can, we are looking to emulate the Principal Riverwalk,” said Mike Bell of RDG Planning & Design. 

The Principal Riverwalk loops the Des Moines River downtown and features a variety of stone and pavers in sandstone and other shades.

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.