Striving to make Easter Lake Park's north shore the most accessible park in America.

Published 7/13/2022 9:28:45 AM

Aerial view of the planned accessible layout, features and amenities at the Athene North Shore Recreation Area at Easter Lake Park.

Des Moines, IOWA (July 13, 2022) – Just three years ago it was merely a vision. Today the Athene North Shore Recreation Area is fully funded with construction crews poised to dig in. This development project at Easter Lake Park will be a unique amenity in Polk County because it was conceived and developed with the singular goal of creating the most universally designed, accessible park in the country.

This project goes far beyond accessible playground equipment – though it has that too. Key features include zero-entry ramps to allow people with limited mobility access to the water, a full inventory of adaptive recreation equipment, extra wide sidewalks to usher wheelchair users and their family across the shorefront, and a de-escalation room for people with sensory input disorder, to name a few. The design team is even modifying traditional signage conventions to promote more accessible navigation.

“We are laser focused on drawing all people to enjoy nature and recreate outdoors,” said Kami Rankin, Deputy Director of Polk County Conservation. “When people feel safe and secure they are more likely to do just that - explore. With this project we are creating a safer, more welcoming space for people of all abilities.”

At the inception of the North Shore Recreation Area a universal design team was formed to guide architects and project leads toward their audacious goal. This interdisciplinary team led by Shive-Hattery realized early on that the existing resources for universal design were not practical for real-world, professional applications. So they decided to change that. Through the North Shore Recreation Area project the universal design team is developing a process-driven checklist that functions as a guidepost for architects and designers. It forces key parties to consider their design or programming decisions based on its relative accessibility and universality. As one committee member put it, once complete this checklist tool will be a gift to the design world.

This project could not have been possible without the generous support of many individuals, organizations and companies. Special thanks to Athene USA for its major gift to become the named sponsor and the State of Iowa for granting $2.5 million through Destination Iowa.

Though the capital campaign has successfully concluded, fundraising efforts continue. Any additional dollars donated to the North Shore Recreation Area will be used to ensure staff are fully trained to offer accessible programming and create a pool of dollars to maintain and replace adaptable equipment. Donations are being accepted through the Great Outdoors Foundation.

Construction is slated to begin late fall 2022 and will continue for more than a year. A grand opening is planned for spring 2024. Stay informed on construction progress and fundraising efforts at

Access Conservation’s shared media folder to view design renderings, a complete funding list, and key partner logos.