The Trust for Public Land for the first time ranked Des Moines in its ParkScore Index, giving the city high marks for park acreage but lower marks for spending on the facilities. 

Overall, Des Moines’ system ranked 39th among the top 100 metro areas in the country.  

Julia Busiek of the Trust staff said the Des Moines trail system “should be the envy of every other city" in the survey. 

Ben Page, Des Moines parks and recreation director, said Des Moines lobbied for several years to be included in the ParkScore Index after discovering that several larger cities weren’t participating — leaving an opening. 

“This is quite an accomplishment,” Page said of the high overall ranking. “We are very proud.”

The median park size in Des Moines was 11.2 acres, more than double the national average for the top 100 markets of 5 acres per park. The study found 12% of Des Moines’ city land is used for parks and recreation, slightly below the national median of 15%.

Des Moines got a score of 55 out of 100 for park access, 82.5 on acreage, 35 on investment, and 50 on amenities. 

Page said the low score on investment shows that Des Moines runs an efficient operation. His department’s staff, with about 60 employees, is roughly half the size of comparable cities’ departments.

That said, Page adds that the department will need more resources to meet citizen demands in the comprehensive plan or to move up in the rankings.

Washington, D.C., topped the index rankings overall, with St. Paul, Minn., second. Minneapolis, which had topped the list for three years, dropped to third. 

The ParkScore Index showed that 72% of residents in the largest U.S. markets live within a 10-minute walk of a park, up from 70% a year ago. Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie has signed a pledge to push toward 100% on that measure, but the Trust found that currently 69% of Des Moines residents are within a 10-minute walk of a park or similar public space. The U.S. national average for all cities is 54%.

Here is Des Moines’ percentile ranking on some other features:
Splash pads: 94
Dog parks: 63
Bathrooms: 58
Playgrounds: 54
Basketball hoops: 43