Clean, Recreational Waterways are a Realistic Goal for Iowa

posted by Jennifer Terry on Saturday, June 16, 2018

Originally published in the Des Moines Register, Thursday, June 14, 2018

The numbers are in and creating a recreational destination on Iowa’s waterways is a feasible opportunity everyone should welcome.

Central Iowa’s leaders may have finally found a way to meld good business with even better environmental practices and solutions. The three downtown dams in Des Moines – the Scott, Center, and Fleur – are far from perfect in their current state. Local creeks like the Skunk and Beaver are overlooked by many.

That is all about to change.

Forward strokes are being made in the long-distance race to make Iowa’s rivers and streams usable, desirable, and most importantly, clean again, as part of the Greater Des Moines Water Trails and Greenways Master Plan. To continue our leadership in the Midwest, it’s crucial to activate our waterways into a tourist destination – locally, nationally, and internationally – and in turn improve water quality, increase economic development, and attract and retain a desirable workforce.

A recent study shows outdoor recreation in Iowa currently generates an estimated $8.7 billion in annual consumer spending and $649 million in state and local tax revenue. By adding 80-plus sites along 150 miles of water, this plan may be a solution to decade-long challenges. The plan calls for recreational corridors for fishing, swimming, tubing, kayaking, whitewater rafting and more. Water isn’t only the key to life, it may be the key to good business as well.

This project melds businesses, organizations, and communities of all sizes. This isn’t a project focused solely on downtown Des Moines. In fact, without partnering communities this plan isn’t a plan at all. Local, county, state and federal insight and contributions will provide the momentum to keep this great plan moving forward for years to come.

As with all new and relatively foreign concepts – like whitewater rafting in Des Moines - education is key and there are many groups ready to communicate the benefits of this project! One group is the Iowa Environmental Council, an organization founded on the idea of bringing together business, industry, and environmentalists to find positive economic outcomes that include healthy soil and water. 

It’s time to look at our water in a new way. Let’s take one of our greatest assets for play and put it to work for Greater Des Moines and for the future of Iowa. It’s time to dream big. All hands on deck.

Rick Tollakson is the President and CEO of Hubbell Realty Company and Steering Committee Chair of the Greater Des Moines Water Trails and Greenways Master Plan project. He was honored with the Corporate Sustainability Award on June 14th at the Iowa Environmental Council’s ProH2O event. Jennifer Terry is the Executive Director of the Iowa Environmental Council.

For more information on the Greater Des Moines Water Trails and Greenways Master Plan, visit For more information and to get involved with the Iowa Environmental Council, visit

About The Author

Jennifer served as Executive Director of the Iowa Environmental Council from 2017 - 2020. Jennifer is a native Iowan, raised on a dairy farm in north central Iowa where she developed a passion for protecting Iowa’s land and water. After a career in the healthcare industry, Jennifer returned ... read more