The city of Des Moines plans to extend its trail network by utilizing funds from the federal Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership grant to improve underserved communities’ access to outdoor recreation.
The proposed extension to the Central Levee Trail will serve areas of the city that have been identified as disadvantaged by the Des Moines Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“This trail is an example of ensuring that these neighborhoods will have safe areas for recreation and transportation and ways to access the river,” said Brian Campbell, the executive director of the Iowa Environmental Council.
On May 10, the National Park Service announced its plans to distribute $150 million through the program in order to improve access to the outdoors, particularly in economically disadvantaged areas. The announcement came in the wake of President Joe Biden’s “America the Beautiful” initiative, which includes goals to reduce inequitable access to outdoor recreation.
According to a 2018 United States Department of Agriculture report, affluent white communities are more likely to have greater access to parks and green spaces than low-income ethnic minority communities. The report also says that access to green spaces is shown to improve mental health, in addition to providing physical benefits.
“The National Park Service grant award is an outside perspective that affirms our proposed project is on track to … [provide] more residents close-to-home options for outdoor recreation, low-cost transportation and greater connectivity to other signature outdoor recreation facilities,” said Colby Fangman, a park planner for the Des Moines Parks and Recreation Department.
According to Fangman, the first phase of the Parks and Recreation Department’s plan for the trail will create 1.67 miles of new trail between Rotary Riverwalk Park and the intersection of Franklin Avenue and Second Avenue with a tentative completion date in 2024 or 2025. Fangman said that the second phase involves an additional 2.1 miles of trail and is still in the early stages of planning. Both of these phases will add to an already extensive system that encompasses 68 miles of paved trails and 19 miles of soft trails in the Des Moines area.
“Des Moines really prides itself on having this network of multi-use trails for biking and walking,” Campbell said.
Johnston resident Erica Fletcher said she uses the trail across the river from the Central Levee Trail to bike to and from work in the summer. She said she appreciates that the trails provide an alternative route to her workplace as well as a safe alternative for recreation with her children.
“It’s way less stressful for me to have them on a trail versus a sidewalk where there’s traffic, so it’s just a really safe place that allows me to get them outside more,” Fletcher said.
In addition to serving Des Moines metro residents such as Fletcher, the trail may also demonstrate the city’s natural resources to tourists.
“All of it goes together in terms of helping reconnect the city with nature and make sure there are safe spaces for people to get around to travel and explore,” Campbell said. “There’s a lot of work to do to protect and clean up the water in the rivers, but I think bringing more people to those spaces is part of helping people see the value of nature and helping protect it too.”