Development Guide


  Intro: Introduction and Table of Contents

  Chapter 1: Water Trails in Iowa

  Chapter 2: State Designation of Water Trails

  Chapter 3: Design Development

  Chapter 4: Land and Stream Management

  Chapter 5: Managing River Recreation in Iowa

  Chapter 6: Signage

New Water Trail Projects:
The statewide water trails plan Iowa Water Trails: Connecting People with Water and Resources identified the need for good initial planning. The first planning phase (pre-planning) generally requires 6 to 12 months. After this phase we require the project manager file a letter of intent with us in order to help us assess, advise, and prioritize future projects. This is a new process change that will be required for all new projects.

After you have finished your initial planning, please file a letter of intent, which includes the following:

  •  Name of the waterway and the county or counties where the trail is proposed, as well as the beginning and end points of the trail.
  • Identify any barriers or known problems.
  • What is the main purpose or purposes of the water trail?
  • Describe what planning has been done, and if a professional planner was involved.
  • List the stakeholder groups that are in support of your project and how many meetings you have held. Stakeholders might be conservation staff, volunteer groups, paddlers, and local law enforcement, to name a few. The broader the support for your project the more likely your success.

Send your letter of intent to:
John Wenck
Water Trails Coordinator
Iowa Department of Natural Resources
502 E 9th Street
Des Moines, Iowa 50319-0034

Iowa Water Trails - Connecting People with Water and Resources
The Water Trails Statewide Plan provides water trail developers, vounteers, dam owners, and others with information on Iowa's rivers and suggestions on how to work with them.

Communicating: Display Panels, Kiosks, Brochures, and Web Options
Water trails guidelines for creating various forms of brochures, electronic media, kiosks, and display panels

Water Trails, Disabilities, and Adaptive Paddling Resources
Adaptive paddling can open a whole new world for people with mobility impairments. Appropriately designed accesses can add help establish freedom and independence for a whole new set of Iowans. While there are no official Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for typical river access launches, Iowa DNR encourages water trail developers to be inclusive for varying abilities as possible, so long as the setting needs not be substantially altered. In addition, a new priority is the creation of paired "Universal Design" launches and landings, which are hoped to provide freedom and independence for a variety of users (See Chapter 3 of Developing Water Trails in Iowa)

The only type of access that must meet ADA design specifications are ones that include boarding piers. All other types of water launches are exempt from ADA guidelines. See ADA water access design guidelines and for more details.

Water Trails Site Planning and Work Crew Assistance Application:

Water Trails Site Planning and Work Crew Assistance Application: (Closed)
Planning Work Crew Assistance
Planning Work Crew Assistance  
The Iowa DNR River Programs is offering an opportunity for site planning and work crew assistance. This will be an ongoing opportunity with a deadline of November 29th, 2013. The crew is designed to help groups with a variety of low-tech projects in Iowa on Designated or In-Progress Water Trails that adhere to naturalistic river and surface trail design principles, or on a site of a low-head dam mitigation project. For questions please contact Luke Wright at or Zach Kopriva at

Dam Mitigation Grants Available
The Iowa Legislature appropriated funds for fiscal year 2016 for the development of dam mitigation and water trail projects. A portion the funds are available competitively for dam mitigation cost-share grants. Dam owners and other eligible entities are encouraged to apply for cost-share assistance for projects that reduce recreational hazards and enhance aquatic species connectivity. For guidance on how projects might be approached, please read “Solving Dam Problems: Iowa’s 2010 Plan for Dam Mitigation” and/or “Developing Water Trails in Iowa.”

Application form: Dam Grant Application Form
Application Form: Dam Grant Application Form
Application post-mark deadline: December 16th, 2015
Total amount available: $800,000