May 13, 2024 - News

Kayakers, canoers can return to Lake Ahquabi after 3-year hiatus

Lake Ahquabi boats

Boats available at Lake Ahquabi back when the lake was full. Photo: Courtesy of Iowa DNR

There's some soggy good news — central Iowa's recent rainfall has helped fill up Lake Ahquabi, a popular state park 35 minutes south of Des Moines near Indianola.

Why it matters: Iowa has suffered from three years of extreme drought, which has hurt water recreation and local businesses that rely on waterways around the state.

  • But there's finally "a light at the end of the tunnel," says Chad Kelchen, an Iowa DNR district supervisor who oversees Lake Ahquabi.

Flashback: Lake Ahquabi, which offers fishing, boating and hiking and saw around 178,000 visitors in 2021, closed for renovations and dredging between 2021-23.

  • When it reopened last July, the 115-acre lake was at least 10 feet below its normal levels.
  • Conditions were so dry that park-goers couldn't kayak or canoe without dragging boats across a long stretch of land.
  • "It just wasn't feasible," Kelchen says.

State of play: As of May 9, the lake's water levels were five feet below normal, which allows canoers and kayakers to launch, but is too low for motorized boats to leave the docks, Kelchen says.

What they're saying: Park concessionaire CanoeSport Outfitters wasn't able to open at all last year and instead relied on business at its Indianola retail store and Raccoon River Park rentals in West Des Moines, says Shireen Cave, who runs retail sales.

  • After being closed for three years, however, they're getting ready to reopen for business this Memorial Day weekend.
  • "We definitely miss Lake Ahquabi," Cave says. "We were starting to question things [in] January, February ... and then in April, it was great. The rain started to come."

If you go: 16510 118th Ave., Indianola. Campground reservations are available. The swimming beach remains closed until the waters get higher.

Two great blue herons on lake and a wood duck
A territorial standoff between two great blue herons (left) and a wood duck (right) at Lake Ahquabi. Photos: Courtesy of Eric Burson
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