Rendition of what the beach will look like when it is complete. (Polk County photo.)

Work is now underway on what is hoped to be the most universally accessible park in the country.

The park is on the north shore of Easter Lake in Polk County. Polk County Conservation director, Richard Leopold, says the idea came as they discussed ways to improve the area.

“We were talking with the Disabled American Veterans — we’ve long been looking at doing a pontoon boat or something. So we’ve got assessable docks where people are fishing, but a lot of the surveys were coming back that vets with challenges wanted to fish and they wanted to be on the water,” he says.

Leopold spoke at the groundbreaking for the project Wednesday, and says the project expanded beyond veterans to help people with all sorts of disabilities. The Iowa Economic Development Authority provided $2.5 million for the $8.1 million project.

He says they hope to get a lot done yet this year. “We’ll have contractors out here doing demolition and site prep already this fall. Spring through the summer of 2023 — this place is going to be a mess — this place is going to be under construction as everything goes in,” Leopold says.

Key features of the park include: accessible playground equipment, zero-entry ramps to allow people with limited mobility access to the water, adaptive recreation equipment, extra wide sidewalks to usher wheelchair users and their family across the shorefront, and a de-escalation room for people with sensory input disorder.

The work should be done in early 2024. “We will hopefully open this park officially in the spring of 2024, that’s the timeline we’re working on and we’re looking pretty good,” he says. “That’s a very aggressive timeline actually for governments, so we’re we’re looking pretty good at that.” Athene  USA is a major donor to the project along with the state and the area will be called the Athene North Shore Recreation Area.

Radio Iowa