Water Trails

Water Trails and Greenways Master Plan DRAFT

The Greater Des Moines Water Trails and Greenways Master Plan DRAFT is now ready for review and feedback by MPO member governments, user groups, key stakeholders, and the public.  Once finalized, the plan will provide the region a road-map for enhancing citizen experiences in and along the 150 miles of water ways in Greater Des Moines.

Draft Plan – Updated September 9, 2016

Policies and Practices (update forthcoming)
Beaver Creek Booklet
Des Moines River Booklet
Fourmile/Mud Creeks Booklet
North/Middle Rivers Booklet
Raccoon River Booklet
South Skunk/Chichaqua Greenbelt Booklet
Walnut Creek Booklet

To comment on the draft plan, use the comment form below.

The Dam Debate I Results

The public clearly expressed a desire to explore the mitigation of the dams in downtown Des Moines to allow greater access and activity, as long as the pool of water upstream could be maintained at low-flow levels with the flash-boards installed. This is shown in the results of The Dam Debate I, held in April with The Des Moines Register, in combination with an online survey. Those results are posted below for the public review.

The Dam Debate II

The Dam Debate II on June 28 followed up on the first Dam Debate, presenting the public with a refined concept based on feedback from the first event, online survey and other public-engagement events.

The revised concept, recommended in the draft plan, calls for the Des Moines River in downtown Des Moines to become a signature recreational destination for the region – with beaches amid naturally restored riverbanks, more fishing areas with improved habitat, calm-water and whitewater channels for beginner and expert-level paddling and tubing. This would require the Center Street and Scott Street dams to be mitigated. The dams would be replaced with a series of drops, spaced out over approximately one mile, which would maintain the water level north of the Center Street dam at current levels to preserve boating and rowing upstream. 


Women of Achievement Bridge

Two Rivers_Final Concept_update

Confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers

Wildlife Reports by Jim Pease

In the last year, Dr. Jim Pease has paddled nearly 150 miles of waterways in Greater Des Moines, documenting his findings on plants and animals that inhabit these urban streams. Jim Pease, Ph.D., is associate professor emeritus in the Natural Resource Ecology and Management department of Iowa State University. His findings are below

Raccoon River
Walnut and Beaver Creeks
Des Moines River
Middle River
North River
South Skunk River and Chichaqua Bottoms
Wildlife presentation

State of the Rivers Report

The State of the Rivers Report is the culmination of months of research and represents the most comprehensive exploration to date of the current conditions of 150 miles of rivers and creeks throughout Greater Des Moines. The online report of “story maps” was developed by Des Moines Area MPO as part of the first phase of the Master Watertrails and Greenways planning effort — a critical first step before planners and the public move forward with generating ideas and recommendations for what the waterways and greenways could become.

Picture11. Executive Summary
2. Regional Context
3. Des Moines River – Northern Section
4. Des Moines River – Downtown Section
5. Des Moines River – Southern Section
6. Raccoon River
7. South Skunk River
8. North and Middle Rivers
9. Beaver Creek
10. Fourmile, Mud, and Walnut Creeks
11. Issues, Opportunities, and Recommendations


About the Regional Water Trails Planning Effort

The MPO recently received funding from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to develop a regional water trails plan. Once developed, the plan will provide the region a road-map for enhancing citizen experiences in and along the water ways in Greater Des Moines.


Map Water Trails Study Area

Water Trails Plan Study Area

The planning effort will consist of four major phases:

  • Community visioning and public input – spring/summer 2015
  • Existing Conditions Report – early 2016
  • Draft Master Plan – early summer 2016
  • Final Master Plan – late 2016

Get Involved

Want to get involved? There will be several opportunities for members of the community to participate in the development of the regional water trails plan:

  • Stay Informed: Be On Our Mailing List. Stay up-to-date with the water trails planning process and discover new information about our rivers.
  • Play the “Design My Water Trails” Interactive Game – the results from the Design My Water Trails” will directly inform the master plan development. Visit watertrails.designmydsm.com.
  • Attend events: Go on a free float down the river, learn about history or gather data – all are free events coming up in the next year. Click here for more events.

To find out more, please send an email to: watertrails@dmampo.org.

Steering Committee

The planning effort is being overseen by a steering committee whose members represent a wide variety of expertise and interests throughout the region.

Click here for more information on committee members and meetings.


Below are the upcoming public events. Click here for more events.

What are Water Trails?

Water trails are recreational corridors and routes on rivers and lakes that provide a unique experience all water users. Water trails help re-connect Iowans to their waterways’ history, heritage, geology, fisheries, and wildlife. Water trails provide adequate access and can include amenities like riverside camping, wild spaces, picnic areas, and restrooms, and watercraft rentals provided by local, state, and federal partners. Coordinated signage and mapping systems guide users toward the types of experiences they seek, ranging from a highly social first-time river experience lasting a few hours to multi-day adventures. Water trails help boost local economies and give central Iowans outdoor experiences just out their back doors.

Additional Resources