Ames Lake now offers rarely accessible kayak and canoe launches

AMES, Iowa (AP) – Ada Hayden Heritage Park Lake in Ames is now home to one of the few accessible kayak and canoe launches in the state.

The launch allows wheelchair users or those with other mobility issues to more easily transfer to a canoe or kayak to paddle the lake. The Access Ada Hayden project is a partnership between the City of Ames and local outdoor enthusiasts Skunk River Paddlers and is now open for use.

“One of our goals in improving our recreational facilities is to ensure that all residents enjoy being outdoors,” said Keith Abraham, director of Ames Parks and Recreation, in a press release. “We continue to look for ways to expand parks, facilities and programs to be inclusive.”

The launch is used by people like David Denhaan of Ames, who grew up boating in his grandparents’ cabin on the Au Sable River in Michigan.

“I’ve always been in a canoe,” he said.

Denhaan has spina bifida, a birth defect in the spinal cord, and is confined to a wheelchair. Despite this, he managed to pursue his favorite pastime: kayaking.

“I’ve always been concerned with accessibility issues, but it always seemed like it worked for me,” Denhaan said last month.

He met with staff from Ames Parks and Recreation and the group Skunk River Paddlers to assess the launch’s installation on August 26.

The launch includes a new concrete jetty, a floating metal dock, and a slide used to launch a boat from shore onto the water. There is a bench above the boat that allows one person to transfer from the dock to the seat. They then grab a system of overhead ropes to pull themselves into their boat.

The new accessible system is for paddlers with all types of mobility issues, from wheelchair users to people using crutches due to an injury or recent surgery, Abraham told the Ames Tribune.

The launch, which has cost about $90,000, still requires some work, including leveling the lakefront and covering part of the concrete pier with outdoor carpeting that will allow wheelchair users to tow their boats without scratching them, he said.

Denhaan said he enjoys kayaking on the Skunk and Des Moines rivers. However, finding a boat launch in Iowa that is accessible to those with mobility issues is not easy.

Calls and emails to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, cities and counties across Iowa revealed just two other accessible boat docks in the state. This is despite the fact that 9% of Iowans will have a mobility problem by 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2019, the DNR installed a canoe and kayak launch legally accessible to Americans with disabilities at Red Haw State Park near Chariton. Funds for the launch were donated by the Clarence Ormond Landrum Trust, which provided $36,000.

And Des Moines installed an EZ launch in Gray’s Lake Park in 2013, similar to the one in Ames.

Polk County is planning a major accessibility project at Easter Lake that will include a similar boat launch, as well as zero-entry ramps, adaptive recreational equipment, wide sidewalks for wheelchair users to access the shore, and a de-escalation space for those with sensory disorders, according to a news release. Easter Lake is located southeast of Des Moines.

Jessica Lown, leader of Polk County’s conservation community, said in a news release that the county is trying to make Easter Lake Park’s north shore the “most accessible park in America.” It will be called Athena North Shore Recreation Area.

“This development at Easter Lake Park will be a unique amenity in Polk County because it was designed and developed with the sole purpose of creating the most universally designed and accessible park in the country,” Lown said in the press release.

The groundbreaking is planned for October, the opening for spring 2024.

The effort in Ames was started by Skunk River Paddlers, Abraham said.

“They came to a public meeting for the Parks and Recreation Areas Improvement Plan three years ago and presented this idea,” he said. “We brought the idea to the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Council. They were all excited about the idea.”

Abraham said the city has pledged up to $50,000 for the project, and Skunk River Paddlers, operating under Access Ada Hayden, agreed to raise an additional $35,000. The local group raised an additional $36,164 with donations from the Story County Foundation, the DNR and an anonymous donor who made a cedar strip canoe that raffled nearly $4,000.

“This particular project was unique to the paddlers,” said Rick Deitz of Skunk River Paddlers. “We are used to cleaning up rivers and developing waterways. This was quite a big step for everyone to take on the fundraising part of it. That’s quite an achievement for us.”

Cindy Barrowcliff, also with Skunk River Paddlers, said the group is committed to ensuring access for all. Members meet every Wednesday from 6:30pm until dusk at Ada Hayden Lake to build community and teach paddling techniques.

“Bring your boat and join us, or contact us and we’ll bring you a boat for you to learn how to use. Anyone can do this. This launch isn’t just for people with mobility issues,” she said.

The group’s website is

Abraham said his department is committed to finding new ways to be more inclusive and accessible throughout the city’s parks and facilities.

Ames is installing an accessible splash guard at Daley Park, 340 Wilder Boulevard, which will be completed in 2023. And he said the department is working with a local service group that is looking to raise up to $40,000 for an inclusive swing set at an Ames park. These details are not ironed out.

The city also hired Chicago-based WT Group to conduct an Americans with Disabilities Act audit for the department.

“They’re going to put together a transition plan and this fall we’re going to have some public meetings where people will review it and give us some input,” Abraham said. “So that’s really going to give us an idea of ​​how to make things more accessible or compliant with the American with Disabilities Act.”

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