The Central Iowa Water Trails project has a new brand, and a new director, as it takes its next step forward in realizing its goals of improving more than 150 miles of Central Iowa’s waterways.

During a celebration Tuesday at the River Center in downtown Des Moines, it was announced that the project will be named Iowa Confluence Water Trails, or ICON for short, and will be under the leadership of Maggie McClelland, who has previously served as the project’s manager at the Great Outdoors Foundation. ICON will become its own separate nonprofit entity and McClelland took over as its director.

A new 80 days of ICON fundraising campaign was also launched to raise money for the $117 million project to connect more than 80 projects along the region’s rivers and streams.

So far, project organizers have raised more than $25 million privately. The project also was awarded a $25 million BUILD grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Earlier Tuesday, the Polk County Board of Supervisors voted to place a $65 million bond issue on the ballot for voters to consider in November.

Tuesday’s announcements were the latest in the journey of the plan that began to gain traction two years ago after studies by Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and Capital Crossroads called out activating the waterways as a primary goal to increase the quality of life in Central Iowa.

The Central Iowa Water Trails Consortium was formed, composed of Capital Crossroads, the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Catch Des Moines, the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, Des Moines MPO and the Great Outdoors Foundation. That led to the establishment of The Central Iowa Water Trails LLC board, made up of members of the consortium and other community leaders.

In 2020, four individual projects went online, including a boathouse in West Des Moines and a water access point at Raccoon River Park. An access point opened along Beaver Creek in Johnston, Polk County finished a project at Molly’s Park, and Van Meter also finished the first phase of one of its projects. More projects are expected to come online this year and in early 2022.

The plan features a series of projects along the downtown Des Moines riverfront, near the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers, to add whitewater runs for kayaking, improved areas for fishing, and improved waterfront access and amenities.

“This project is visionary in nature, so it only seemed natural that one of our first steps was to develop a name that would capture its transformational potential,” McClelland said. “The process involved hundreds, maybe thousands of stakeholders and countless rounds of research and surveys.”

She said that work led to the creation of a brand “that truly embodies the wonder, heritage and potential of our waterways.”

After the ceremony, McClelland said the development of a brand and the launch of the fundraising campaign will help it reach its full potential. That will include the establishment of a new board and a governance structure for the water trails and its member communities.

“After all the progress we’ve made through the past two years through private fundraising, design concepting, getting our jurisdictional partners involved, so now moving forward with ICON water trails, our intention is to make this the public-private partnership it was always intended to be,” she said.

Dan Houston, CEO of Principal Financial Group and co-chair of the ICON board, said during Tuesday’s celebration that there is a lot of work to do.

But “when we're all done, we’re going to improve water quality, we’re going to improve conservation, and we’re going to improve recreation choices for Central Iowa,” he said.

He said it’s taken a lot of collaboration to make the project a reality.

“The ag community has stepped up and could not have been more supportive. Conservation has stepped in, urban leaders are at the table. There’s a common goal to improve our water quality and substantially improve the quality of life. If you can’t get excited about that, I don’t know what you can get excited about,” Houston said.

Watch a short video of Maggie McClelland discussing the next step in the plan to improve central Iowa waterways.