A plan to transform a 50-acre wooded area in east Des Moines into a mountain bike park is moving forward after council members voted to rezone the proposed property as parkland.
There was not an empty seat at City Hall on Monday for the Des Moines City Council meeting. At least 50 community members flooded council chambers and dozens more filed outside the door waiting for their chance to weigh in on the rezoning of the undeveloped land north of Copper Creek Lake slated to become Copper Creek Mountain Bike Park.
But unlike the initial Plan and Zoning Commission meeting in September where a majority of neighbors denounced the park, an overwhelming number of comments were that of support.
Pleasant Hill resident Danny Kruzik, who said he lives next to Copper Creek, told council members he is 100% in favor of the project.
“I want you to know that several residents are in favor of this,” Kruzik said. “Not only am I an avid cyclist, but I’m looking forward to the capital improvements in the area.”
The future Copper Creek Mountain Bike Park will be located north of Highway 163 on the border of Des Moines and Pleasant Hill. The park, proposed by the Polk County Conservation Board, will likely have more than 4 miles of trails and recreation space for nature lovers of all ages in an area of the city that currently lacks green space.
The single-track flow trails — including groomed trails for winter fat biking — would take mountain bikers on a “terrain-induced roller coaster experience” with banked turns and quick up/down terrain jumps. There also would be a lighted parking lot, restrooms and a new trailhead for the nearby Gay Lea Wilson Trail.
The plan has been opposed by those who live within 250 feet of the land, however. Multiple people who submitted written opposition and spoke ahead of September’s Plan and Zoning Commission meeting also took the podium at Monday’s council meeting.
Many neighbors in close proximity reiterated previous concerns about privacy, traffic and the potential destruction of wildlife. They also said county conservation board leaders failed to provide enough information to make an informed decision about the rezoning proposal. And they worry about building and investing in a floodplain.
Thomas Kielty, of Pleasant Hill, asked if there had been an environmental impact report to determine the effect on wildlife in the forest.
“I don’t know if this project is a good project or a bad project because we don’t know all the facts,” Kielty said. “You recognize that we have beavers, coyotes and we have foxes, and we have deer and we have nesting eagles. I’m sure there are some endangered species that are also living in there and an environmental impact report would show these things.”
Des Moines resident Vickie Doerr said approving the rezoning would be a disservice to taxpayers because the site is a floodplain.
“I think the estimated amount was like $300,000 to get (the park) up and going. First flood (that) comes, we’re going to be re-spending that. That’s not how I want to spend my taxpayer dollars,” Doerr said.
The conservation board purchased the land for $300,000 in 2021 with the intention of developing it into parkland. The park could cost $2.2 million.
“Our property touches this park I’m not going to feel safe in my own yard anymore,” Doerr added. “Parks bring great people. They also bring shady people.”
Polk County Conservation Board Director Rich Leopold responded to multiple comments, emphasizing the concerns were “valid,” but the board is in the beginning stages of planning out the park.
“When we talk about neighborhood impacts — when we talk about water quality, engineering studies, endangered species studies, and all of that — absolutely, we are required by law and in fact, that’s what we do,” Leopold said. “We manage and own 16,000 acres here in Polk County so all of these things will be accomplished as this is processed.”
“We’re good neighbors to people,” he said.
To neighbors’ concerns about safety with already-existing issues such as vandalism and illegal dumping, Leopold responded: “We know how to manage those challenges. We’ve done it many times. We believe that after we get to where we’re going there’s going to be much less of that type of activity.”
The overwhelming majority of individuals echoed Leopold’s enthusiasm for the project.
Jeremy Wofford, who approached the podium with his 7-year-old son, Gus, spoke to the general character of the bicyclist community.
“You can’t speak to all characters of people, but generally the cycling community and a lot of the people who use the trails are an overwhelmingly positive group of people,” Wofford said. “So it is going to bring more people, yes, but most likely people who want to support that space.”
Kyle Landsberger said as a Des Moines resident and taxpayer he is in favor of the park because of the positive impact it could have on the economy.
“Personally, I go spend thousands of dollars just to go out of town to go to parks like this, so it’s be pretty amazing to put that money back into our own state … and enjoy it here,” Landsberger said.
Council members unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance to rezone the property. A second vote to waive its second and third readings passed 6-1. Council member Indira Sheumaker voted no.