The downtown Des Moines riverwalk
This week’s springlike weather was a perfect time to take an evening stroll. And where better to stroll than along the river in downtown Des Moines? Obviously it was not an original thought on my part, because lots of folks were doing it.
I started at the University Avenue Bridge, a concrete arched bridge built around 1920 that crosses the Des Moines River just north of the botanical center. This is one of the prettiest bridges in Des Moines, in my opinion. It reminds me of the bridges designed by Iowa State grad Conde McCullough — and it’s possible that he designed this one since he was working in Iowa about the time this bridge was built. He later grew to fame for his bridges along the Oregon coast.
The walkway near the Des Moines Botanical Center is pleasant, even without blooming trees and flowers. There are several benches positioned along the riverfront where you could sit and enjoy the view.
Next up, as you walk south along the east side of the river, you’ll encounter the John Deere Chinese Pavilion, a part of the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens and Chinese Cultural Center of America. This center (according to its website) highlights the importance of diversity in the Des Moines community and acknowledges the significant contributions that Asian Americans have made to Iowa. The gardens also serve as lasting monuments honoring Gov. Ray’s visionary moral leadership and humanitarian outreach. The gardens were dedicated Aug 1, 2009.
Just past the Asian garden is the Center Street Bridge, part of the Principal Riverwalk. The Riverwalk project began in 2004 and is still under construction. Sections that are completed include the very attractive Center Street Bridge, the Brenton Skating Plaza, Long Look Garden, Meredith Trail (which connects to Gray’s Lake) and more. Work continues on the Court Avenue Plaza and a multi-use trail.
The Center Street Bridge is pretty any time of the day, but at night it takes on a completely different look, with lights in the center that reflect onto the river in an ever-changing rainbow pattern. The bridge links the east and west sides of the city at the northern edge of The Principal Riverwalk loop. The bridge features two separate pathways — one for walkers/joggers and one for bicyclists.
A little further south, near the Embassy Suites hotel, the Simon Estes Amphitheater frames downtown and is the perfect place to watch the sun set. The amphitheater, named for opera performer Simon Estes, is the location for the popular Nitefall on the River concert series held each summer.
A few more blocks south is the Union Railroad Bridge. Once a carrier of train traffic, the Union Railroad Bridge has provided a pedestrian link over the Des Moines River since 2006. Painted its original color, “caboose red,” the bridge features cantilevers on each side, allowing pedestrians to stop and enjoy the view. The bridge is part of the Principal Riverwalk.
And, finally, a parting shot of the downtown skyline.