Funding for the Rivers Program needs our ongoing support. There has been good funding for water trails and dam mitigation, more is needed. The most promising funding stream is the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation
Trust Fund, created by an overwhelming majority of Iowa voters in 2010,
a permanent and constitutionally protected funding source. The actual funding requires action by the legislature.
I was involved in early efforts to secure funding for the program, and I strongly support the work being done by the DNR on water trails, river safety, scenic rivers, dam safety and studies, stream bank restoration and so much more. I am especially interested in the rock arch rapids design that has been implemented in Boone, Charles City, Marengo, and several other Iowa cities.
I only know of 2 people who have paddled every mile of the Iowa section of the Des Moines River from Estherville to Keokuk. It took me 2 years (97-98). It is just amazing that John Craun did it in just over 7 days in 2010.
I first took notice of the Des Moines River in 1993, after the historic flood, and began following the Dragoon Trail signs along the river in my car. Larry Stone’s accounts of his 1994 trip were my inspiration. Eventually, I bought a kayak and began paddling one section of the river after another, often alone and even in the winter and doing a self-shuttle using a bike.
The Des Moines River and the people and places along it became a fascination for me. I began to write about my travels online well before blogs were mainstream and I still maintain a Web site, desmoinesriver.org.
I’ve traveled every mile of the Des Moines River in Iowa at least twice over the past 14 years. I have explored every access point along the river. Along the way, I became known as the father of Iowa water trails.
Back then (1998), few if any were thinking of rivers as trails. I pushed the idea in my spare time. I was able to help establish funding for new ramps and signs and persuade people who lived near the river to see it as a trail. The idea of a water trail was actually first discussed at the General Store in Bentonsport (Van Buren County) in December of 1998.
In those early years, I put fliers in convenience stores from Estherville to Keokuk and wrote to local newspapers. Eventually I was working with the Des Moines Recreational River Greenbelt Commission (the group that established the Dragoon Trail) and with conservation boards in all 17 counties along the river. There was a river-long dedication of the Des Moines River Water Trail in June of 2000.
Unfortunately, there was no funding made available for the water trail at that time. For several years there were annual float trips in several counties, and the water trail logo was the result of the work of the Water Trail task force.
In 2002, Van Buren County received funding for a 40 mile water trail from the Federal Recreational Trail program after I became a member of the scoring committee. Other counties received funding over the next several years. Eventually, the DNR established the Rivers program and began funding water trail projects and providing official designations to water trails. The Van Buren County water trail was one of the first to be designated as an official water trail in 2007.
Today, there are official Des Moines River water trails in Webster, Boone, Polk, Marion and Van Buren counties. So there is work to be done before there is a trail from Estherville to Keokuk.
It is amazing to read of all the water trails being established all over the state. Our rivers are being recognized as recreational resources and natural wonders. More and more people are being drawn to the rivers. This was the vision I had during my many river expeditions. I am happy to have helped get things started, and very grateful to those who have gotten so much done since the establishment of the Rivers program.