Rediscovering Local Parks

Photographer: Duane Tinkey

With so many of the city’s attractions temporarily closed and events canceled over the past few months, we’ve been rediscovering our local parks. If your own outdoor wanderings haven’t yet taken you to these spots, now is the perfect time to check them out.

Raccoon River Park: West Des Moines refers to this 631-acre parkland as the “crown jewel” of the city’s park system—and with good reason. A peaceful, winding 3.2-mile crushed rock/asphalt nature trail—which truly makes you feel like you’re far away from any city—encircles the no-wake Blue Heron Lake. The park’s other offerings also make it a go-to destination, among them an expansive playground, a dog park, softball and soccer complexes, a nature lodge and picnic shelters.
(2500 Grand Ave., West Des Moines)

Union Park: At press time, we were still hoping Heritage Carousel would be able to open sometime this summer at this north-side park. Accompanied by the cheery tones of a Stinson band organ, the carousel’s two chariots and 30 glossy basswood horses, rabbits and fanciful creatures can carry 35 riders at one time. See also: the wading pool, the gardens and the playground’s rocket slide, which was installed just a few years after astronauts first landed on the moon. (725 Thompson Ave.)

Easter Lake Park: During the six-year, $20 million project that involved draining, dredging and renovating Easter Lake, this southeast-side park had completely slipped off our radar. So we were delighted to rediscover it once the 178-acre lake reopened last summer. A new 4.1-mile trail loops around the lake, and you’ll also find Polk County’s only covered bridge, five picnic shelters and three playgrounds. (2830 Easter Lake Drive)

Gray’s Lake Park: The city’s most-visited park is as popular as ever, with folks walking, running and biking every day of the week on the 2-mile trail around the lake. A new highlight: the 425-foot-long foot bridge over the Raccoon River that connects the trail to downtown. (2101 Fleur Drive)

Greenwood Park: Spend an afternoon wandering through the unofficial “backyard” of the Des Moines Art Center, where sculptor Andy Goldsworthy’s “Three Cairns” lead to a formal rose garden, an amphitheater and a tranquil pond. Be sure to follow environmental artist Mary Miss’ pathway into a walled ramp that descends below the water’s surface so you can see the pond and all its teeming life at eye level. (4500 Grand Ave.)

Ewing Park: Everyone—from disc golfers and dog lovers to BMX and soap box derby riders—will find something to do at this south-side park, a destination for generations of local families. It is most famous for the dazzling display of its lilac arboretum and the children’s forest of more than 4,000 trees. (5300 Indianola Ave.)

Jester Park: This 1,675-acre getaway has been popular since it first opened, in 1958, on the west shore of Saylorville Lake. But recent upgrades have kicked it up a notch. Say hello to the bison, explore 8 miles of trails and the eco-friendly playground, ride a pony, or take a swing on the golf course or at the nature-themed mini course. At press time, the standout new nature center and adjacent recreation center (with indoor archery and bouldering rooms) were still closed; check for updates at jesterparknaturecenter.com.
(12130 N.W. 128th St., Granger)

Water Works Park: With more than 1,500 acres, Water Works is one of the country’s biggest urban parks and about twice the size of Manhattan’s Central Park. (Take that, New Yorkers.) Renovations continue to enhance the park, including the new amphitheater and the tunnel, still under construction, that will link Water Works to Gray’s Lake. Fish or paddle the Raccoon River, ride horses, or hike or bicycle miles of paved or dirt trails. Water Works also is home to one of the world’s largest collections of flowering crab apple trees. (2201 George Flagg Parkway)

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