Mar 27, 2024 - News

Polk County's "most accessible park in America" opening in May

A rendering showing a ramp going into water

Rendering: Courtesy of Polk County Conservation

Polk County Conservation is opening one of the most "accessible parks in America" for people with disabilities at Easter Lake in May.

Why it matters: The Athene North Shore Recreation Area will be one of the country's few public waterfronts focused on accessible amenities for all, according to the county.

Driving the news: A grand opening scheduled for May 5 will include free equipment rentals all day, including fishing poles and kayaks.

How it started: In 2020, Polk County Conservation — which manages the county's recreation and conservation areas, conducted a feasibility study.

  • The study showed that while the county had accessible parks and playgrounds, no accessible water activities existed.
  • The group raised $8.4 million and focused the entire Easter Lake north shore redesign on accessibility, ranging from wider sidewalks to a concrete ramp into the lake for wheelchair users.

State of play: Other new amenities include accessible docks, boat launches and a wheelchair-accessible pontoon boat.

  • Restrooms are single-stall, and there are also adult-size changing tables.
  • People can rent accessible-specific equipment, including fishing poles, bikes, trikes, kayaks and a beach wheelchair.
  • There's a quiet wellness room, plus a building available for rent.

The big picture: Easter Lake was first listed as one of Iowa's impaired waters in 1998, due to silt from erosion caused by rapid home development in the 1990s.

  • But the county's multi-million-dollar investment has helped bring the area back to life.
  • They dredged and refilled the lake in 2019, installed new fish habitat, and restored the surrounding woodland. Plus, Des Moines added a new connecting bike trail from downtown.

What's next: More upgrades are happening at the park's southside next year, including a new shelter house and updated bathrooms, Jessica Lown, spokesperson for Polk County Conservation, tells Axios.

The bottom line: "There really isn't anything like this in the country," Lown says.


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