Central Iowa out of doors recreation initiatives obtain public funding

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The state will allocate public funds to some outdoor recreation projects in central Iowa.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority will give Polk County Conservation $2.5 million to improve Easter Lake on Des Moines’ south side, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced this week. The money will fund fishing boats, canoe and kayak boats, a playground and an environmental learning center.

Local leaders have been rehabilitating the Easter Lake area over the past decade, spending approximately $23 million from 2013-2019. The groups drained the water, cleared about 21,000 dump trucks of debris, refilled the lake, and built a 4-mile trail around the edges.

Before the restoration, bacteria flooded the water, often putting Easter Lake on the state’s list of impaired water bodies. Locals asked people not to swim in the dark brown water.

“Chocolate milk color,” Michelle Balmer of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources told the Des Moines Register in 2019.

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Also Monday, Reynolds announced that IEDA will provide $1 million to build a 4-mile bike path between Perry and Woodward. The trail connects the Raccoon River Valley Trail and the High Trestle Trail.

Once the builders are done, riders will be able to ride 86-mile and 118-mile loops on two of Iowa’s most popular trails.

IEDA also on Monday gave $7 million to Siouxland Regional Trail Systems, which will build bike trails connecting Sioux City, Le Mars, Hinton, Merrill and Sergeant Bluff.

Funding for all three projects comes from Destination Iowa, an initiative Reynolds announced in April to fund developments that boost tourism. Reynolds created the program from public funds that Congress allocated to states under a March 2021 COVID-19 Relief Spending Act.

IEDA still has $83.5 million in Destination Iowa funds. The state continues to accept applications for the money from cities, counties and organizations.

Tyler Jett covers jobs and the economy for the Des Moines Register. You can reach him at [email protected], 515-284-8215 or on Twitter at @LetsJett.