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Merit Award Winner

Project Name:  Birdland Park and Marina Master Plan 
Location:  Des Moines, Iowa
Design Team:  SmithGroup

The master plan for Birdland Park and Marina maximizes the park’s potential as a neighborhood park for the Union Park neighborhood AND as a destination for the City of Des Moines by:

  • Minimizing land and water circulation conflicts between boaters, trail users, paddle craft and emergency access

  • Enhancing connections between Birdland Park, the Des Moines River and adjacent neighborhoods

  • Creating a variety of destinations for a range of users

  • Focusing on the Des Moines River as a natural resource and recreational destination


Nestled within the Union Park neighborhood on the banks of the Des Moines River, the park offers a connection to nature in the city. The marina has an annual waiting list. The Ding Darling Shelter is the most rented facility in the city’s park system. The Neal Smith Trail sees 300,000 users per year. Captain Roy’s, a patio bar and live music venue, is a regional attraction and neighborhood hot spot. The existing Birdland Park and Marina was underutilized, due to aging infrastructure and long-term damage.

The park’s proximity to the river and location inside the levee leaves it prone to flooding, which causes frequent closures of the Neal Smith Trail. The historic 1993 flood significantly damaged the marina leading to the removal of the central boat slips.

The master plan creates a recreation-rich amenity for the city, offering something for everyone from dining, to boating, to play.

  • Repurposes a portion of Birdland Drive as a bridge that is multi-purpose, can host larger events and provides a gateway to waterside destinations.

  • Dredges the lagoon and reconnecting it to the river to restore an appropriate hydrology and improve habitat.

  • Improves recreation offerings and access.

  • Expands and modernizes the marina.

  • Consolidates the rowing club and Captain Roy’s into a marquee structure.

  • Provides paddle craft access directly to the river and lagoon access for a rental program and everyday users.

  • Adds a destination play area that includes unique play structures and restoring skating, a lost historic use of the site.

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