A growing number of river-based cities in Iowa are pursuing a state designation to turn their waterways into tourist attractions.
John Wenck, Water Trails Coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, suggests Iowans who are interested in developing an official water trail should be patient and persistent.
“The planning process – it can take three or more years in some cases,” Wenck says. Water Trails are recreational corridors and routes on rivers and lakes for canoeists and kayakers. There are typically several access points along the trail. Wenck says all local land owners and managers should back the project before the DNR gets involved.
“Start local, rather than calling us first,” Wenck says. “If the local city and the county aren’t interested…you know, we’ve got to have that partnership and cooperation from the local entities before we even begin to think about planning a water trail.” In recent years, water trails have helped boost local economies. Wenck says the trails will only succeed if everyone connected to the river or lake agrees to provide upkeep on the access points.
“You can wave a magic wand and put signs up at accesses, but if you don’t have regular management – I’m telling you, rivers are dynamic and they can take signs out and destroy accesses in a heartbeat. I think we’re seeing a little of that now,” Wenck says. “You have to have that follow-through, that partnership between the state and the local entitites in order to make this really work.” There are currently over 930 miles of designated water trails in Iowa.