By Jay Byers, CEO, Greater Des Moines Partnership; and Rick Tollakson, president and CEO of Hubbell Realty Co.

As our region continues to grow and maximize momentum, it is imperative that we continue to push the envelope on big ideas. The Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is currently in the midst of implementing a Water Trails and Greenways Master Plan, and we encourage the business community to support this bold initiative.

The plan was adopted by unanimous vote by the MPO Policy Committee in November. It has been identified as a regional priority through the Capital Crossroads Regional Vision Plan, which has experienced broad support among Des Moines businesses, nonprofits, elected officials and other stakeholders. The water trails plan provides the region a road map for enhancing citizen experiences in and along the 150 miles of waterways in the region.

Water trails are recreational corridors and routes on rivers and lakes that provide a unique experience for all water users. They help reconnect Iowans to their waterways’ history, heritage, geology, fisheries and wildlife. Water trails provide adequate access and can include amenities like riverside camping, wild spaces, picnic areas and restrooms and watercraft rentals provided by local, state and federal partners. They help boost local economies and give residents outdoor experiences just out their back doors.

Effective use of water trails is a key talent attraction and retention magnet. We have natural outdoor amenities that set our region apart. The Principal Riverwalk is a great example of investment that has already been made in our water trails, and this plan’s implementation would complement that investment as well as lead to further progress throughout the region.

The MPO has shown strong leadership in setting the stage for this initiative, and we commend the MPO’s member governments for their regional collaboration on the project so far. We also commend Executive Director Todd Ashby on his team’s efforts.

After initially having the study approved in November, they have coordinated the Water Trails Engineering Study as the first phase of implementation. As part of the study, the MPO is working with ISG Engineering and Architecture, which will focus on the proposed projects throughout the region, and McLaughlin Whitewater Group, which will tackle the unique constraints of the water trail recommendations for downtown Des Moines.

This study has received community support with more than $500,000 raised from public and private organizations. To keep the momentum on this project, we must continue to support its implementation efforts.

Des Moines is experiencing tremendous growth that seemed unthinkable to many just a decade or two ago. Our region is full of projects and initiatives that went beyond the norm. Who would have thought we would be hosting global events such as the Solheim Cup, or that we would have music festivals that draw people from around the country, or that we would see our population growing so rapidly? These things do not happen by accident.

Think about what we have accomplished because of our ability to dream big and work together. 

Our water trail system is regional in nature, and our support of that system must continue to come from across the region.

This has the potential to be another game-changing initiative for our region. Investing in quality-of-life amenities such as water trails is critically important to attracting and retaining top talent, which is a key part of our region’s economic development strategy.

The business community has already been instrumental in the water trails project, and it is important that we continue to be vocal in our support of the project. The engineering study will be available later this year, and  we will have the opportunity to work closely with our local elected officials to act on the findings of the study.

Capital Crossroads 2.0 encourages local governments to integrate the plan’s recommendations into their short- and long-range planning and capital improvement budgets.

Implementation would be a signature win.

Learn more about the Water Trails and Greenways Master Plan at dmampo.org/water-trails.