An $8-million upgrade is planned for a lakeside park in Des Moines with the goal of creating the most accessible park in the country.

Kami Rankin, deputy director of Polk County Conservation, says the renovation designers on the Easter Lake Park project took ideas from other parks across the U.S., aiming to make outdoor recreation universally accessible to people with disabilities.

Rankin says, “We have found that there are little pockets of accessible types of opportunities for people, which are great, but there’s nothing of this scale.”

The plan includes adaptive playground equipment, a zero-entry ramp at the beach and a wheelchair-accessible pontoon boat. A de-escalation room will also be open to people with autism, PTSD or other conditions who need a quiet place to calm themselves.

Rankin says the department created a checklist that other agencies can use to make parks fully accessible.

“You’re going to be able to get out of your car at this facility, and no matter what your ability, you are going to be able to get to every single recreation element that we have in this park,” she says.

Construction at Easter Lake is expected to be done by spring of 2024. The park is being named the Athene  North Shore Rec Area after the West Des Moines insurance company which is a major donor for the project. It is funded through a $2.5-million state grant through Destination Iowa.

Grant Gerlock, Iowa Public Radio