Outdoor improvements are designed to make days and nights in Des Moines more pleasant

Outdoor improvements are designed to make days and nights in Des Moines more pleasant
Outdoor improvements are designed to make days and nights in Des Moines more pleasant

DES MOINES, Iowa — Technically, it’s a place that’s constantly growing. But that’s especially true lately.

“We now have 12 acres of indoor and outdoor gardens,” said Kim Perez, director of the Des Moines Botanical Garden. “Starting at the Women of Achievement Bridge and continuing north along the river.”

For 45 years, the Botanical Garden has been one of Iowa’s most impressive places to enjoy the summer sun. But opening hours will soon be longer.

“The Botanical Garden is literally invisible after dark right now,” she said. “But tomorrow night we will be part of the Des Moines skyline.”

Equipped with a ring of Musco lights, the iconic dome will glow in different colors each night.

“It will now be a focal point of our community,” said Ben Page, director of Des Moines Parks and Recreation. “You won’t drive down 235 without wanting to look there.”

Page and his department have a long list of outdoor features that their department is excited about.

Another park is located directly across the river, where the Riverwalk Dog Park (Illinois Street and W. River Drive) is currently being built.

“The fence isn’t finished yet,” he said, “so they’ve only opened up about a third of the dog park. So it’s downsized, but it’s getting back to its normal size.”

The People There is even more going on in the parks.

Cohen Park (E. 11th and Scott) was just completed this month. The city’s first climbing obstacles, a so-called sutu wall, new trails and the original fountain.

The Rocket Slide at Union Park (E. 9th and Thompson) is back and brighter than ever, and is about to reopen.

“It’s reassembled vertically, has a brand new coat of paint, all the rust has been removed and replaced with new metal,” Page said. “We’re just waiting for the solid surface to go underneath – the playground safety surfacing – maybe a couple of weeks and then we’ll be ready to make an announcement.”

There are some big changes happening at Birdland Sports Park (6th Avenue and Birdland Drive). Brand new tennis courts, ready for tournaments… and more.

“When we asked the community what they thought about tennis, they asked for two basketball courts that didn’t exist,” Page said. “Those are under construction and we hope to have them completed before the first snow falls.”

If there’s a catch, it’s the bike lanes — a third of Des Moines’ 70-plus miles of asphalt are under construction. Levee and canal work coupled with American Rescue Plan money have made this the summer of ripping up the pavement.

“Excuse the progress a little,” Page said, “but by this time next year we will have so many miles of beautifully paved paths.”

However, the Levee Trail on the west side of the city was completed earlier and opened just last week.

“It was the oldest and worst trail we had,” Page said. “But when we opened it last week, we got rave reviews as one of the gentlest and most beautiful stretches of trail we have.”

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