Water Works Park is comprised of 1,500 acres bisected by the Raccoon River and a 3-mile-long infiltration gallery, which is a major source of drinking water for Des Moines. Des Moines Water Works, working in partnership with Iowa State University Department of Landscape Architecture, held international competition for proposals to integrate the ecological and social functions of the park and river into a unified landscape, inspire the community, and generate discussion about watershed issues. The competition also called for solutions for ecological and recreational challenges specific to Water Works Park. Sasaki's winning plan, developed in collaboration with RDG Design and Applied Ecological Services, imagines Water Works as a place of adventure and water experience that serves as entrée to a restored, easily accessible wilderness and beyond—to a river system, a watershed, and a new understanding of the role of everybody in the region's water story. The park becomes a re-imagined public space on the Raccoon River, where the dynamic floodplain, the engineered water systems, ecology, and active recreation come together.
Sasaki's plan shapes two distinct yet complementary sections of Water Works Park: the wild and the engineered. The wild offers immersion into the park's magnificent natural setting through activities like horseback riding, hiking, and exploration. The engineered is the active heart of the park and provides more structured outdoor activities and event spaces. The centerpiece of the engineered landscape is a recreational watercourse, experienced on standing paddleboards, that is linked to interpretive opportunities regarding the role of the site in harvesting and cleaning drinking water. The engineered landscape also connects to city streets, integrating the park with the urban fabric of Des Moines. Through a series of engaging experiences, the plan offers the potential to realize Water Works Park's mission: to transform the way society thinks and understands the role of water in the region. "Education and the connection between the river and the community were highly stressed in Sasaki's winning plan," said competition judge Ted Corrigan, Director of Water Distribution and Grounds for Des Moines Water Works. "The concept of integrating recreation with water supply operational enhancements also stood out from the other submissions."
As a part of their submission, Sasaki developed a visitor's guidebook that presents their plan as the park's reality. The guidebook illustrates that the plan is truly about the community and highly implementable. Throughout the design process, the design team interviewed citizens, community leaders, focus groups, and stakeholders, and will continue engaging the public throughout the master plan and implementation process.