Waukee Trailhead Public Art Committee Secures $1.1 Million for “Waukee Railroad Pergola”
Bicyclists come from near and far to pedal along the Raccoon River Valley Trail, with its most significant trailhead located in Waukee. Thanks to a creative vision and a lot of planning and fundraising work, riders will soon have a new feature to enjoy.
The Waukee Trailhead Public Art Project Committee met its fundraising goal of $1.1 million on June 8, thanks in part to a $147,650 “Community Attraction & Tourism” grant from the Vision Iowa Board. The project has come a long way since the early planning stages.
“Several years ago, Chuck Offenburger and I were discussing that, as people came out of the metro on their bikes to the Raccoon River Valley Trail system, they didn’t really know there is a transition,” said Waukee Trailhead Public Art Committee Co-Chair Jim Miller. “We wondered how we could make the Waukee Trailhead a more noticeable gateway to the trail. We joked about building an arch; then we laughed and moved on. But that conversation stuck with me, and I thought maybe we really could do something special.”
In 2012, Miller and co-chair Randy Jensen formed a committee to discuss a potential trailhead art project. They didn’t know what it would be, but after meeting with designers, they got excited about the possibilities. David Dahlquist and RDG Planning & Design—the team that designed Ankeny’s High Trestle Trail Bridge art—was chosen by the committee to create something unique and regionally relevant for the site.
With the support of the Waukee City Council and after several rounds of public input meetings, Waukee Railroad Pergola – In the Shadow of the Rails was chosen as the art feature.
“The pergola design was the one that really resonated with people. Involving the community was a great asset, as instead of the committee making this huge decision for the community, the community was, in a way, making it for the committee,” said Miller.
Waukee Parks & Recreation Director Matt Jermier said the pergola design is great because it’s interactive. Bikers can ride through the actual art installation. It also features LED lights, which will make night riding more enjoyable. Plus, it has a unique tie-in to Waukee’s railroad heritage.
“Just as the railroad once linked one community to the next, so does the Raccoon River Valley Trail today,” said Jermier. “The former rail system was actually repurposed to form the Raccoon River Valley Trail.”
The City of Waukee previously earmarked $173,000 for capital improvements at the trailhead. Once the art project group formed, these budgeted funds were allocated to help pay for a comprehensive enhancement plan for the trailhead site. The plan includes a shelter and plaza structure and an improved parking lot.
“I think it’s evident, based on how many cars you see parked at the trailhead on any day of the week, that the trail is already very popular,” said Jermier. “The impact of the artwork will be huge as another amenity to offer Waukee residents and visitors. It will also serve nicely as a new western gateway to the City once the second high school and recreation complex are opened in 2021.”
Miller agrees that this amenity will bring more users to the trails. He notes the awe-inspiring experience he has each time he rides over the High Trestle Trail Bridge as a testament to the committee’s efforts.
“We’ve got the ability to replicate that kind of experience on this trail. A lot of people choose the High Trestle Trail because of the beauty and luminosity of the bridge,” said Miller. “Adding this fresh, new amenity will create that type of draw here in Waukee. It will be something truly unique to the trail system.”
And, it’s not just Waukee getting on board the art train. Eight other communities along the Raccoon River Valley Trail are planning to incorporate artistic elements from Waukee’s design into their respective locations. Once completed, the public art features will be located along the full 89-mile trail corridor, creating one of the longest linear public art installations in the country.
The target completion date for the trailhead improvements and art installation is set for the summer of 2017. Miller said many people have asked why $1.1 million is going into this art project and not into other improvements, like trail surfacing. He explained that most of the funds raised are from sources dedicated to this type of project.
“This was very specific fundraising—very targeted to those who invest in arts and culture initiatives,” said Miller.
With the funding in hand and the plans approved, the groundbreaking on the project could happen yet this year. Jermier thinks the pergola art will be an attraction for both bicyclists and non-bicyclists alike.
“I think the recent installation of the American Gothic-inspired sculpture at the Waukee Public Library was well-received, and we’re excited to add more public art to the City’s landscape to really put Waukee on the map,” said Jermier.
The committee is now looking for additional funds to support the partnering communities’ portions of the project. For more information, visit WaukeeTrailheadArt.org.