10 Years After…

The land is identified and ready, an excellent master plan is in place and the potential for your new park is endless.

Then the referendum that will fund the major park facilities fails. What do you do next?

The West Des Moines Parks and Recreation Department rolled with the punches, looking for solutions while maintaining a flexible approach to its master plan and funding options.

Mostly, it required a lot of patience, as the city’s latest and greatest park was pieced together to form a cohesive and comprehensive recreational outlet for its citizens.

Piecing the Plan

Raccoon River Park is more than 15 years in the making, overcoming a number of obstacles to get to the point it’s at today.

“The water department of West Des Moines wanted to use the site for shallow water wells, but the water department initially held back because we had the master plan in place. After the referendum failed in 1991 the future of the park was unclear, so they convinced the council that they should be able to put water wells in the park site on one of the two large pieces of land the city had purchased,” explains parks and recreation director Gary Scott.

“From there, it was a matter of how to change the master plan so we could still utilize it for park purposes. By having a well there you’re not allowed to use pesticides, herbicides or fertilizer within 200 feet of the well site, which limits athletic field use, so we flipped the location of the soccer and softball field complexes.”

This was one of many examples of the department’s flexibility that contributed to the continuing viability of the park. Scott says that Sally Ortgies, superintendent of parks, “must have re-drawn the master plan 20 times over the years.”

On the funding end, Iowa allows for annual fund infusion into its park systems for improvements without the need for a public referendum. So, rather than having a lot of the funding it would need right off the bat, the park had to be built in yearly phases.

“It flattened the timeline out significantly, delaying development six years or more, but the revised master plan is better as far as usage and utilizing the area,” explains Scott. “The funding of the referendum was $4 million and was woefully inadequate to do what we eventually did.”

It’s the classic good news/bad news scenario. The bad news being the flattened timeline, while the good news would be a better and more well-rounded park for the community.

The park currently includes soccer and softball fields, a lakeside beach, a nature lodge that doubles as a special event facility, and 3.2 miles of paved and unpaved trails.

Though the major development is complete, more is in the works as the initial goal of the park — to provide a unique destination within the West Des Moines park system — is always in sight.

Practical Improvements

The softball complex and nature lodge have proven, so far, to be the biggest boons to Raccoon River Park.

Softball is the only sports programming the city runs, and the new park has significantly increased its ability to lure players and tournaments.

“We used to have two to four tournaments, but the new, larger facilities have brought tournaments every weekend from May 1 to October 1,” says Scott.

“The National Senior Softball World Series came here last year and they were so pleased that they want to come back under a multi-year agreement. We finally hit a goal where we’re attracting national tournaments. It raises the public relations level of the facility and brings entertainment into the community.”

The increase in tournaments at the facility brings more than entertainment to the community, it infuses money into the local economy.

“We’re looking at attracting a national youth girls’ tournament. It’s very big in the community, we’re more likely to be able to charge a gate admission, and there’s a lot more in merchandise tie-ins,” says Scott.

In addition, the city runs a variety of commercial and recreational softball leagues. The more competitive commercial leagues get registration, scheduling, umpires and score keepers with their package, while the recreational leagues receive registration, score keepers and scheduling assistance.

Like the softball fields, the nature lodge has an ambitious, multi-purpose goal. First, it provides an interactive nature classroom for school kids that plays off of the natural setting surrounding it, which includes the presence of a variety of birds and mammals.

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