Expanding Recreational Opportunities Through Trail Connections
A desire to improve safe access to Easter Lake Park and expand recreational facilities prompted Polk County Conservation to explore multi-use trail options. The result is a 4.1-mile trail loop encompassing the lake at Easter Lake Park, which is a popular destination for walking, running, and biking. A signature bridge located at the west end of the trail serves as an impressive focal point with overlooks at each pier. Sidewalk connections to surrounding neighborhoods provide ease of access for residents and visitors alike.
The trail loop was named in honor of environmentalist Mark C. Ackelson upon his retirement from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, where he served as president from 1994 to 2013.
To further expand the recreational facilities, a multi-use trail connection was made between Easter Lake Park and Ewing Park, which lies adjacent. By tying the parks together, users have over 1,000 contiguous acres of park and recreational facilities to enjoy. From Ewing Park, trails connect to the north and south along Indianola Avenue.
Trail Fundraising Assistance & Phased Construction
The loop trail and connecting segments required a concerted fundraising effort. Our team provided construction cost opinions, developed promotional materials, and rendered an image of the signature bridge to assist Polk County Conservation in generating excitement and project funding. In 2012, Polk County voters supported the Polk County Water and Land Legacy Bond (PCWLL), which provided significant project funding. Polk County Conservation was able to leverage the bond funds and secure federal funding assistance through the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), while Snyder & Associates assisted.
Trail design and construction were split into four phases.
- Phase 1 — Trail construction through a historic, covered bridge and along the south side of the lake in 2013.
- Phase 2 — 1.36 miles of trail construction in 2015 starting in Ewing Park, passing through a tunnel under Indianola Avenue, heading easterly along the north side of Easter Lake to just beyond the eastern park entrance.
- Phase 3 — Closed the eastern gap between phases 1 and 2 and paved two parking lots in 2018. Modifications to Easter Lake Dam were required to incorporate a trail along the dam.
- Phase 4 — A short trail segment and a 443-foot-long, three-span bridge that completed the 4.1-mile trail loop in 2018. This phase also included the construction of the sediment forebay wier.
Phase 3 and 4 were constructed in coordination with the Watershed Easter Restoration & Water Quality Improvements project, which involved dredging, shoreline restoration, and a constructed wetland. The lake was drained for dry dredging, which enabled the trail construction process to utilize lake bottom soils for borrow material, staging of construction materials, and modification to the dam while dry. The dry lakebed also facilitated construction of the weir for the sediment forebay on the west side of the lake and the signature bridge.
The weir is made from a row of recycled concrete placed across the lake bottom directly under the bridge. It‘s submerged and not visible to boaters. Placing the weir under the bridge allows the bridge to serve as the visual cue to boaters that there’s an obstacle below. The weir is low enough to allow people kayaking and canoeing to glide over the top to access Yeader Creek.
Phase 3 also included repaving Evergreen Avenue and connecting sidewalks for the City of Des Moines as a separate division in the construction documents. Joint bidding and construction of the trail and the roadwork resulted in construction cost savings for both the City and Polk County Conservation.
Additionally, the Evergreen Avenue Bridge was replaced by a separate construction contract. We coordinated with the City of Des Moines to include a trail with the new bridge that crosses over the lake outlet. The simultaneous construction of the road, bridge, and trail minimized negative impacts to the area by overlapping construction activities and road closures.
Trail Design & Related Construction Services
Snyder & Associates provided the conceptual, preliminary, and final design for over five miles of 12-foot wide PCC recreational trail. We also provided construction observation and administration, including the management of required federal funding documentation. Shuck-Britson, a subsidiary of Snyder & Associates, provided structural engineering and construction phase services for four pedestrian bridges along the alignment varying in length from 32 to 443-feet.
Our team coordinated with the Iowa DOT, Iowa DNR, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for environmental clearance, permitting, and trail construction throughout the park. Wetland impacts were minimized through adjustments to the trail alignment when possible. Potential bat habitats were also identified and recommendations were given for trees to be cut during the winter months, so that bats would not be present.
Usage of Easter Lake Park is anticipated to continue to increase in the future. The eastern portion of the Mark C. Ackelson Trail, together with the Easter Lake Spine Trail, are planned to one day be part of a larger regional trail connecting the City of Des Moines to the City of Carlisle.