When grants from the ICON Water Trails $5 million MidAmerican Regional Fund are announced this month it will mark the next phase of development of projects that connect more than 80 sites along 150 miles of rivers and creeks in Central Iowa.

The $125 million initiative is being funded through a combination of a capital campaign and public dollars. One of those funding sources is the MidAmerican Regional Fund, created by MidAmerican Energy Co. to provide funds to smaller, regional projects outside of the Des Moines metro area.

So far, much of the attention on ICON Water Trails has been on what could be considered signature projects, such as those on the Des Moines River in downtown Des Moines that will create space and whitewater features for kayaking and surfing. But with the announcement this month of the first cycle of grants from the MidAmerican Regional Fund, that focus will begin to better represent the regional nature of ICON Water Trails, said Maggie McClelland, director of ICON.

“It’s giving us the regional tie-in,” she said. “From the beginning, a lot of news has come about the downtown site – understandably so, given the excitement of the whitewater features – but by creating the regional entity of ICON Water Trails it’s really allowing us to build out that regional network, creating those different river run experiences from West Des Moines to Johnston, Bondurant and Altoona. It’s really creating that regional network and identity for water trails outside of the downtown pieces. It’s allowed us to start shifting that focus to more of that regional viewpoint and regional perspective for water trails.”

McClelland said ICON Water Trails is strengthening regionalism in Central Iowa.

“A lot of our municipal partners were taking this on as their own approach, but by creating this cohort of municipalities and partners that are brought into water trails and creating their own access points, it is really just strengthening the regional network that we have. So anybody that comes to use water trails will have the same experience no matter where they are on the water trails network. Things like maintenance and operations and regional marketing and promoting this as a full network rather than just attraction by attraction.”

So far, just over $70 million has been raised for the project. That includes a $25 million federal Build Grant, $15 million from the state’s Water Infrastructure Fund, and a capital campaign that has raised nearly $30 million of its $33.5 million goal.

5 million MidAmerican Regional Fund will be an endowment that will include two funding cycles each year with maximum funding amounts per cycle of $125,000. Applications will be reviewed by a committee who will judge the applications on criteria that align with ICON Water Trails’ mission and goals of economic development, safety, environmental conservation, tourism and workforce attraction.

“We’re looking for projects that align with those goals and be a funding resource for some of those projects to move forward that otherwise may not have been able to with limited resources,” McClelland said.

The announcement of the first round of awards from the fund was released after the deadline for this article’s publication. Watch for the announcement on the Business Record website.

Kathryn Kunert, vice president of business and community development for MidAmerican Energy, said the MidAmerican Fund was created to ensure the success of regional projects.

only way this whole water trails piece works is if everybody has the ability to participate and be successful,” she said. “It is a regional amenity to support placemaking, and MidAmerican really [wanted] to highlight the fact it is more than just those downtown sites and [to] help get those smaller sites started, and put an emphasis on regional and really elevate and lift up those other communities who have opportunities to be successful with their piece of it.”

t said MidAmerican’s Regional Fund will help connect ICON Water Trails and help make the regional vision a reality.

“Having this fund really allows for those dollars to be able to support those smaller projects that otherwise may be slower coming or not have the ability to even participate in ICON Water Trails, so we feel it supports the larger whole and reinforces the connectivity of all the communities in the region,” she said.

Kunert said she envisions the success of ICON Water Trails helping the region attract and retain top talent.

“We know when communities are successful, thriving and vibrant, that in turn has an effect on the ability to retain our businesses and grow our businesses and attract new businesses. In order to have those businesses be successful, they have to have the workforce that goes with it,” she said. “So having the placemaking and the amenities to support those communities, you have to have these sorts of activities.”

Bondurant is one of the communities that submitted an application for the MidAmerican Regional Fund in hopes of continuing to build on recreational tourism in the area.

City Council member Angela McKenzie, who is Bondurant’s representative on the ICON Water Trails board, said ICON Water Trails “brings some depth to Iowa as a whole,” and blends together recreational activities to make the state a more interesting place to live and work.

Bondurant City Administrator Marketa Oliver said the city has benefited from recreational tourism, and continued development of those opportunities under ICON Water Trails will help not only the city but the region as a whole.

“Building on regional and eco-tourism is really smart, and to do it at the regional level and lift the whole region, it’s good to build on that,” she said.

McKenzie, who is also a real estate agent, said the projects being developed under ICON will help fill the need for amenities being sought by people looking for a place to live and work.

“That’s what people are looking for,” she said. “It’s not just the house. It’s all the amenities. It’s being able to walk to a park or be able to get on your bike and go to a neighboring town.”

Oliver said Bondurant being a part of the network will help raise its profile and elevate its amenities.

The ICON Water Trails funding will help the community move forward with its projects sooner rather than later, she said.

“For us, getting funding is important,” Oliver said. “We will move forward with the project eventually, but it will take longer and have to be broken into phases [if funding isn’t received].”

The project Bondurant is working on as part of ICON Water Trails is Eagle Park, which will include bioretention cells to capture and treat runoff, and native grasses, benches, trees, walking trails and butterfly gardens.

Moving forward

While the announcement of grants through the MidAmerican Regional Fund marks the shift toward regional projects, work on some of those has already been completed, and work on the downtown Des Moines sites is moving forward, McCelland said.

Bids for projects funded by the Build Grant – Scott Avenue, Prospect Park, Birdland Marina and Harriet Street – are due March 29. McClelland said that there has been an increase in interested contractors since the bid period was extended, and that construction on those projects is still anticipated to begin this summer. The bid deadline was extended after no bids were received during the initial bidding cycle. Design work on the Fleur Drive and Center Street projects is beginning. 

“There is a lot of momentum and progress happening here in downtown Des Moines, but it’s also exciting that we see a lot of movement with our regional sites as well,” McClelland said.

Projects in West Des Moines and Johnston came on line over the past year, and Polk County and Polk County Conservation have moved forward with improvements, too, McClelland said.

Some of those projects that have already gone on line are the boathouse on Raccoon River Park in West Des Moines and the creation of a portage path from Blue Heron Lake to the river at that park. The city of Johnston has completed two of its three projects, including access points on Beaver Creek, areas McClelland described as great beginner points for users.

“We’re slated to see a lot more of our regional projects come on over the next couple of years, and a lot of that is in large part because of this MidAmerican Regional Fund,” she said.