The 199,000 people who live in Des Moines are represented by a three story building built solid and square, capable of withstanding the harsh winters they yearly endure. It was hard to tell by the suffocating heat that we felt as we rolled up to its steps but wintertime low temperatures can plunge below zero for days on end and 15 to 25 inches of snow in a month’s time is not uncommon. In fact, a fully enclosed 3.5 mill skywalk, the 2nd longest in the country, heated in the winter and cooled in the summer, helps Des Moinians get around their downtown in the extreme seasonal weather they face.
City Hall itself, a grey stone building, had originally been constructed in 1910 using the Des Moines River for its orientation. Back in the day, most of its traffic arrived from this slow moving body of water which stretches from southwestern Minnesota for 525 miles across Iowa to the Mississippi at the state’s southeastern corner. Besides local transportation, this waterway, in the decades after the city of Des Moines was first commissioned as a fort by the War Department in 1843, used to be the source of power for the city. From 1840 to 1890, more than 80 water mills ground grain along its banks.
Though office buildings and shopping malls have replaced a lot of its fields, agriculture still remains a big part of the city’s economy. However on much of the soil that used to grow crops, factories now make tractors, drills and cotton pickers, Des Moines also has the nation’s biggest insurance industry, it recently overtook Hartford, CT for such honors. In fact Des Moines is now so far far removed from its river and agrarian roots that it is only dependent on its name sake river for one thing since it gets its water from the nearby Raccoon. Along with rafting and swimming and miles of trails, it is now an important source for recreation, something they take very seriously here in Des Moines.
As testimony to the value this city places on good healthy fun. the Raccoon River, located just around the river bend from City Hall, also has an extensive network of people power pathways. As such, while there are not any bike lanes in this lightly trafficked city, there are over 300 miles of trails for hikers and cyclists that travel to the outermost reaches of the greater metropolitan area. In addition, in a city blessed with water and green, there are 147 bridges crossing over its creeks and rivers, and most all of them are bike accessible.