On the Des Moines--1998-2019

 Estherville to Fort Dodge;   Fort Dodge to Saylorville

Saylorville to Red Rock;   Red Rock to the Mississippi River

The DNR has an interactive "Where You Can Paddle" map at https://iowadnr.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=767d75008b0f40ce922138d3c5d7f4f0.  When you click on the XYZ button, you activate the pushpin.  Click any place on the map to select coordinates.  Go to the DDM converter and click on the Copy button.  Go to Google Maps and paste the coordinates, and voila, you can view the access and get directions.

The Iowa Water Trail Association has compiled a chronology of Iowa water trail activities going back to the time of Marquette and Joliet.  The Association recognizes the work done by many Iowans on the Des Moines River Water Trail, including yours truly Gigs Rowland.  It is an honor to be recognized by fellow paddlers.

Featured page:  The pristine beauty of the Des Moines River in 1835 as described in Lt. Albert Lea's survey report, Notes on the Wisconsin Territory


Road trip report

River levels are quite low. At Humboldt, the river is flowing over the dam but Lake Nokomis is nearly dried up. Bridge construction in Ft. Dodge has closed the river at Hwy. 169 Business. There is a ramp just south of the gorgeous park that replaced the "little dam."


2015-2019 Events

10/2019--The 2 dams in Ft. Dodge have been removed.  This opens up 60 miles of water trail from Humboldt to Fraser.  This is a very scenic stretch of river with lots of fast water and numerous access points.  I first wrote a letter to the Ft. Dodge Messenger in 1998, advocating for dam safety and water trails.  I spent many days in Ft. Dodge, paddling the area and talking to several groups.  Many thanks to the DNR and to Ft. Dodge community leaders for making this happen.  Note:one gate of the hydro dam remains on river right.  It may be a hazard in high water conditions.

4/2018  Sycamore Access is open, bridge construction is complete.

Wonderful news!  The low head dam south of Gotch Park just below the confluence of the East Fork and the West Fork of the Des Moines River has been removed.  This was a dangerous structure and a difficult portage.  The river is now passable from Gotch Park to Fort Dodge.  Work is proceeding on mitigation of the 2 low head dams in Fort Dodge.  Thanks to the DNR Rivers Program and their many partners for this great improvement.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has partnered with the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to create a master plan for improving the water trails and nearby greenways in the Greater Des Moines region. Once complete, the master plan will provide a long-range regional vision for how local governments, businesses and other organizations can collaborate to improve the region's waterways for better recreation, enhanced conservation and improved economic vitality.  It was a pleasure to participate in several planning sessions and to be able to offer suggestions on upgrading the water trails in Polk County.


The Master Plan has been approved, the engineering and design phase will begin as soon as funding has been secured.  For more information, click hereTo date, more than $90 million of the $110 million project has been secured.  Construction began in Fall of 2021.

This is a wonderful opportunity to reconnect the rivers in the Des Moines area, which are currently disconnected by 3 dangerous low head dams.  It is also an opportunity to reconnect the people with the natural beauty and recreational opportunities that enhance the lives of all who come down to the rivers.  In the decade since the Riverwalk and the DNR Rivers Program came into existence, much has been accomplished and much has been learned.  There are multiple examples of projects that have made the rivers more accessible, including Charles City, Elkader, Manchester, and a converted low head dam in Boone.  The Riverwalk needs a river component, there is expertise that was not available 10 years ago, and there is a willingness to bring all stake holders together.  As the father and grandfather of Iowa Water Trails, I am excited about the possibilities.

2014 events

10/1/14_The Dam Solution -- I really enjoyed this class -- thinking of a time when the dams in downtown Des Moines are "fixed" -- The class was highly visual, with imagery and videos that helped explain both serious and fun topics. Then, the focus shifted to examples of safer, innovative solutions communities are embracing across Iowa. Three low-head dams in Des Moines - Center Street, Scott Ave., and Fleur Drive dams -  served as case studies where 19 deaths have occurred over the years and fisheries productivity is reduced. The technology and know-how is now available to fix these dams to reduce deaths. The same solutions can often reconnect fish movement while reducing navigation barriers. We learned about the latest research and exciting solutions to dam problems in central Iowa and beyond.

There is so much going on with water trails and on the Des Moines River Water Trail.  The DNR, the county Conservation Boards, the RCDs, Fish and Wildlife, Federal Recreational Trails and cities and counties are doing great work establishing and enhancing water trails all over the state. 

My personal favorite project is the conversion of the Boone Water Works dam to a rock arch rapids, which is finished.  The converted dam is now a paddler friendly rapids ready for use.  (See photo and report from the Iowa Whitewater Coalition low head dam reference project.)

Our own Nate Hoogeveen designed the project.  So there will be rock arch rapids less than an hour away from Des Moines.  There are still low head dams to be modified in Humboldt and Fraser to make a continuous water trail on the north Des Moines River.  There is work being done on a dozen rock arch rapids in Iowa.

Just to remind you-I found one of Luther Aadland's rock arch rapids in Wahpeton, ND in 2003 and paddled over it.  I brought back the video and showed it at the Canoesport Expo.  I have pushed for low head dam modification since 2001, when I was first appointed to the scoring committee of the Federal Recreational Trails program.  I am thrilled to see how far we have come, let's finish the work from Estherville to Saylorville!

2012 events

An outstanding water trail dedication at the confluence of Lizard Creek and the Des Moines River.  John and Todd from DNR and the great folks from Ft. Dodge and Webster County did a wonderful job in creating a beautiful space with river access.  Now we just need to add some water.

The new Iowa Water Trail Association is doing good work, the e-newsletter is packed with good information.  Water trails are hot!

My health-still not good, but I do get down to the river and enjoy the views.


2011 events

Numerous events were sponsored by Central Iowa Paddlers.  Due to health problems (including an automobile accident), I was not able to get out on the river.  I attended the dedication of the Middle River Water Trail, which is a tributary of the Des Moines River.  The DNR and County Conservation boards put on an outstanding event.

2010 events

Super paddler John Craun paddled from Estherville to Keokuk in late April and early May to raise funds for the Hickory Ridge Wilderness area.  The project is sponsored by Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, which is accepting donations.  John made the 400 mile trip in 7 days.

I regret that health issues have kept me off the river.  I was only able to paddle twice this year.  I have been pleased to watch the progress of the River Program of the Iowa DNR as the staff works to develop water trails on hundreds of river miles.

2009 events

Dedication of water trail campground at Yellow Banks park 10/2/09.  The campground is just below the pit toilets at the turn to the boat ramp.  We had a fire and shared river stories on a rainy night, then had a great ceremony.

Boone County water trail dedication 9/19 at the Hwy. 30 access.  Keeping with tradition, the event coordinators have arranged for the firing of cannon that signifies the start of the cleanup.  There was a huge crowd, John Wenck did a great job as MC.

Canoe Van Buren was July 11 and 12.  Another excellent event.  Good newspaper and TV (KTVO) coverage.  Check out the video at KTVO.  Wapello County float 7/25 was a good time.  

Webster County water trail dedication was Friday, July 10, 12PM; 326 11th Ave. North, in Fort Dodge (contact the Webster CCB for more information at 515-576-4258)    


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