The Story behind the Icons of the Park
One of the worlds largest collections of flowering crabapple trees can be found at Water Works Park. The collection is properly named after its developer, horticulturist and author, Arie Den Boer. He was the collector and originator of the arboretum in 1930, establishing a collection of 300 varieties of trees in his time. Today, the arboretum includes approximately 1,200 trees in the collection, with the youngest trees being planted through a donor tree program, which Des Moines Water Works staff now maintains through pruning and propagation. Arie Den Boer was perhaps the first successful nurseryman to popularize the crabapple tree with his book Ornamental Crabapples, published in 1959. His book gave a nurseryman a different take on the crabapple, warts and all, and explaining the tremendous diversity of this plant in the landscape. The annual crabapple blossom usually blooms the last week of April and the first week of May, attracting thousands of visitors to Water Works Park.
In the early years of Des Moines Water Works, an ornamental pool was a very popular public attraction. Located inside the Fleur Drive Treatment Plant – just south of the pumping station, Water Works Park visitors were welcome to visit the pool and stroll around the grounds. The pool was built in the early 1920s, when the pumping station was being constructed. The dirt from the excavation of the pool was used to raise the elevation of the pumping station. Each corner of the pool was adorned with a large brass frog with water spouting from its mouth. The decorative frogs were designed by sculptor Florence Sprague, an instructor in Drake Universitys Art Department. Shortly after completion of the pumping station, The Des Moines Tribune published pictures of the interior and exterior of the new facility in June 1923. A photograph of the pool was included with this caption: Utility and Beauty – this beautiful bit of artistry does not adorn the gardens of some multimillionaires estate – it is to be found on the grounds of the Des Moines Municipal Water Plant.The pool became affectionately known as the goldfish pond after a retiring business owner donated some goldfish. When donated, the goldfish were small but grew to be six inches and weighed one pound each. In the 1970s the pool was filled in because it was structurally unsafe. And since then, access to the treatment plant has been restricted to the general public for security reasons. To this day, nothing has been built on top of the old goldfish pond. It remains a green spaceinside the Fleur Drive Treatment Plant. Two of the four brass frogs from the pond are a part of Des Moines Water Works artifact display. Who has the other two brass frogs remains a mystery …
A recognizable landmark in Water Works Park is the weathered white barn just northwest of Des Moines Water Works general office building. The old barn is probably most well-known for serving as a rustic backdrop for numerous photo shoots over the years.The barn was built around 1900 to shelter the horses that were owned by the water utility for farming operations. In those days, crops of wheat, alfalfa, corn, timothy, and clover were grown on the water supply grounds. In 1924, farming operations were discontinued on the grounds, so most of the horses and farm equipment were sold, retaining only those necessary for maintenance of the grounds.Most recently, Water Works Park maintenance equipment has been stored in the barn and it is now the home to a large number of bats and mice. Questions have been received from the public about the 100+-year old barn which has had its share of flood damage. Originally, plans had been to renovate it, but several years ago it was discovered that the barn has suffered significant termite damage that precludes putting any money into it.
In early 1928, a log cabin was built to provide winter shelter for workers who were clearing the back tracts of the water supply grounds. Nestled among the trees in the western portion of the park and built of native wood, the cabin and outdoor stone fireplace were made available to the general public when the park opened in April 1933. An article published in the April 19, 1933, issue of the Des Moines Tribune said, The log cabin on the Des Moines Water Works grounds is one of the most popular picnic spots in the city. Charles S. Denman, manager of the water company, said that the cabin, which was opened to the public April 1, is booked for the remainder of the season, which will end September 1. Denman said his office has had as high as 80 applications in one day for use of the cabin by Des Moines organizations. Reservations include lodges, bridge groups, Sunday school classes, church congregations, sororities, sewing circles, and ladies aid societies. By 1955, the cabin was in such disrepair that it was torn down, but the fireplace and chimney were left and are still standing. Today the log cabin area is a popular spot for scouting events.
As long as Des Moines Water Works has been in existence, protecting the water resources from pollution and assuring an adequate supply of water well into the future has been utmost importance. Thanks to the utilitys founding fathers – not to mention employees throughout the years – the growth of Des Moines Water Works has kept pace with the expanding needs of the community. In 1884, the company began constructing an infiltration gallery system that would use groundwater from the Raccoon River. The infiltration gallery was the only water source at the time. By 1919, the water supply grounds covered approximately 470 acres. In 1925, when the Board of Water Works Trustees purchased 334 acres of land south of the Raccoon River, west of S.W. 30th Street, General Manager Charles Denman stated that the newly acquired land would insure a potential water supply large enough for a city twice the size of Des Moines. Gradually, additional land (now known as Water Works Park) bordering the Raccoon River on both sides, extending to 63rd Street (city limits) was purchased to protect the source water and to extend the infiltration gallery. In April of 1933, Water Works Park was opened to the public. At that time, the water supply grounds covered 1,400 acres. Today, Water Works Park now spans 1,500 acres.
Des Moines Water Works Park is approximately 1,500 acres of natural woodlands, prairie and river bottom ground with an abundance of wildlife. The park, which is nestled in the city limits of Des Moines, and is only a stones throw from the downtown area, boasts a variety of wildlife species. Whether one bikes, walks or explores the park on nearly eight miles of bridle trails – they are sure to come across a variety of wildlife. White-tail deer, turkey, fox and coyotes are a few of the wild animals that can be found in the park. Look in the tree tops and you will find hawks, ravens, various birds and even bald eagles. With acres of water within the ponds and Raccoon River, park patrons will find dozens of different species of waterfowl as well. Hundreds of ducks and geese call Water Works Park home and can be seen nesting on the banks and diving for food; however, we encourage park visitors to not feed them, so that they do not lose their natural ability to determine a predator threat. Water Works Park is truly a nature lovers destination and fall is the perfect time to enjoy it.
Des Moines Water Works Fleur Drive Treatment Plant has the option of three different sources of raw water. The first and best source is a shallow groundwater collection system called the infiltration gallery. It is a three-mile long, porous pipe constructed with concrete rings. This runs parallel to the Raccoon River in Water Works Park, and collects water from the sands and gravels of the river valley. The ponds in the park are also there to help recharge the gallery. The gallery system provided all the water to the Des Moines area until 1949. Increased water demand required construction of an intake on the Raccoon River in 1949, and the drought of 1977 precipitated construction of an intake on the Des Moines River in 1980. Des Moines Water Works selects its source of water each day, and sometimes can change throughout the day, due to water quality and the ability to treat different substances present in the source water.
Many are familiar with the visible areas of Water Works Park. But, some real fun can often be found off the beaten path. Just off George Flagg Parkway (formerly named Valley Drive), you will find the iron bridge. Cars are not allowed across the bridge, so you can enjoy a quite nature walk. If you continue a short ways north of the bridge, you will notice the horses from the stables. They will often greet you by rushing to the fence. If you continue on this path, you will eventually cross over the Raccoon River and head into the South of Grand area. At this point you have multiple choices; to continue on to 63rd and Grand, veer to the west to head into West Des Moines or to the east to head into Greenwood Park. Crossing the bridge is just one of the many options for walking paths in the park. Routine walkers in the park know they may encounter new experiences each day. Bald eagles have been seen nesting along the east/west road. Deer, wild turkeys, countless bird varieties, snakes, frogs, and turtles round out some of the wildlife regularly seen on or along the paths. A variety of water fowl and their babies can be found waddling along the ponds. But if nature is not your bag, strike up a conversation with visitors in the park. There are always people fishing that are more than happy to tell their fish stories. The park is flat, ideal for the leisurely walker. The park is vast, ideal for the serious runner. The park is fun, ideal for anyone. Pick your desired distance, lace up your shoes and enjoy the park.
Fishing has always been a favorite pastime in Water Works Park. The park offers a multitude of perfect fishing spots, whether it is along the banks of the Raccoon River that winds through the park or one of the 12 ponds. A variety of fish species can be found in the waterways that inhabit the park — bass, crappie, bluegill, catfish, bullhead, and carp, to name a few. The ponds are adequately stocked with fish due to the frequent flooding of the Raccoon River. Both the river and the ponds are accessible to the public during normal park hours. Patrons must abide by the Iowa Fishing Regulations, as posted on the Iowa DNRs website: http://www.iowadnr.gov/law/regs/regs_fish.pdf