DES MOINES, Iowa — We can see the signs of work about to begin, but the downtown water trails project is still hard to picture.
“What we’re trying to do is reconnect people to the river, to make them usable again for recreation,” ICON Water Trails board member, Hannah Inman said.
Standing over the Des Moines River, Inman has nothing but good things to say.
“We actually think having mixed use in the form of canoeing or paddling, or even floating helps all of us.”
The plan is approved, the money is there, and the heavy equipment is set to move in, but from a PR standpoint, there is still work to be done.
“The more man touches this river the worse it’s gonna be for everything,” says angler Fred Rivas.
“I’ve been concerned since they started talking about it ten, twelve years ago,” agrees fisherman Don Kirkpatrick.
Anglers are skeptical, though project leaders and the DNR say fish will benefit from new passageways over the low-head dam.
“This is the most popular fishing spot in the state of Iowa,” Inman said. “So, it’s really important to us to honor that, and to make it better than it is now.”
“I don’t believe that,” says Rivas, still skeptical.
There’s also concern for the river’s other fishermen — the bald eagles. This is the spot to see them in winter.
“This is where handicapped people and everybody else can come and look at them,” says photographer and eagle fan, Jack Schall, who’d been shooting photos from his car. “It’s just very unique, I’d hate to see anything happen to it.”
A new walking path will mean some of the favorite cottonwood trees need to come down.
“It could very well affect their habitat for sure,” says photographer Eric Williamson, whose photos of Des Moines’ downtown eagles have been published across the country.
Eagle lovers are rightfully concerned, but project leaders say they are too.
“It’s really a small, three-acre parcel with 150 trees (that are being removed),” Inman said. “There will still be trees there for eagles to perch on, and we really care about eagle habitat.”
This plan to connect with nature won’t be finished until 2025. Until then, there’s time to connect with people.
“If they’re successful with it, awesome, thumbs up,” Rivas said. “But I’m skeptical. I’m scared!”