Chapter 4: Recommendations

Site Design Considerations

Development Classifications

The development classification for each river access was determined through discussions with park managers and information presented in the Existing Conditions chapter.  Each classification corresponds with the development goals, maintenance, stream character, and paddlers expectations of a particular river segment.

Gateway accesses are the showcase entry points for paddlers, particularly those new to the area.  Gateway accesses can be designed for beginners in areas with predictable water conditions, or they can be designed as a destination for advanced paddling such as a whitewater park with riverfront seating and viewing areas.

Recreational accesses provide a typical Iowa water trail experience appropriate for family and group trips.  These are river segments that require some boat control and are intended for users with some paddling experience.

Challenge accesses may include risks such as rapids and obstructions, and users are expected to manage risk in hands-on ways.  Access areas are generally developed with minimal impacts to the landscape.  Only experienced paddlers should navigate these water trail segments.

Wilderness accesses are the most remote and undeveloped of all the classifications.  These river segments offer some degree of solitude, quiet, and wildlife-viewing for paddlers, and the distance between river accesses can be significantly longer than other classifications.  Development activities should be limited to habitat restoration and maintaining healthy riparian corridors.  Paddling endurance and skill are required for segments classified as wilderness.

Draft development classifications were assigned to each river segment and displayed at the public input meetings.  The skill level of each river segment was also shown, which is not the same as its development classification.  In general, the development classification describes the long-term planned character of a river segment and its development patterns, while the skill level describes the difficulty of each river segment for paddlers.

The majority of the Cedar River in Black Hawk County is classified as Recreational.  However, the stretch from downtown Cedar Falls to downtown Waterloo has been assigned the Gateway classification.  The majority of this seven-mile section is surrounded by a mix of city, county, and state parks including George Wyth State Park and Hartman Reserve.  In addition, major development projects designed to attract paddlers are planned in both downtown Cedar Falls and Waterloo.  The result is analogous to a barbell, as shown in Figure 4-1.

Black Hawk Creek, on the other hand, largely fits the description of either a Challenge or Wilderness classification.  Large sections of Black Hawk Creek have challenging features including rapids, logjams, strainers, fast-moving water, and tight turns in the stream.  Elements of a Wilderness classification are also present including dirt walking trails along the greenbelt, small granular-surfaced parking areas, and minimal development along the water trail.  Future improvements along Black Hawk Creek will continue these low-impact practices.

General Recommendations

The access areas along the water trails all have varying degrees of amenities and accessibility.  Along the Cedar River, there are a total of 17 existing and planned access areas with a motorized boat ramp, six areas with carry-down access only, and one planned boat tie-up area.  All three access areas along Black Hawk Creek are carry-down only.  Some accesses have paved parking areas while the majority have granular parking areas.  Three accesses currently have boat docks – Island Park, Cedar Bend Park, and the Waterloo Boathouse.  Lastly, the usability of some ramps depends on the river water level.  Some sections of the water trail are too shallow for motorized boats during low water, whereas some river accesses prone to flooding cannot be used during high water.

For the majority of accesses, the point where users enter and exit the water trails is the boat ramp.  Some boat ramps experience very few maintenance problems and are ideal in most conditions as-is.  Other boat ramps can become muddy and slippery after heavy rain and flood events.  Island Park in particular becomes inundated with up to three feet of sand after floods, requiring significant ongoing maintenance.  Another problem at some sites is the boat ramp itself becomes undermined by the river current.  For the purpose of this plan, maintenance and modification of the boat ramps is the responsibility of each respective jurisdiction.  This plan does not include detailed recommendations for the boat ramps themselves.  However, park managers need to be aware of five elements of boat ramp design:

    • Armoring edges of the launch to protect against scouring and erosion
    • The vertical slope of the launch, which should be as close to 8% as possible
    • The horizontal alignment, or angle of the launch relative to the river
    • The transition and push-in section of the launch
    • Height of the water during various conditions

Almost all site plans for the Cedar River and Black Hawk Creek Water Trails include parking improvements, and all site plans include signage.  Three signs are planned for each access area:

    • State-designated water trail identification sign
    • Next downstream launch identification and distance sign
    • On-river access sign

State-designated water trail identification signs are already installed at the Black Hawk Creek accesses and the Cedar Valley Paddlers Trail accesses at Fisher Lake and Alice Wyth Lake.  These signs were installed during previous water trails planning efforts described in Chapter One.  The next downstream launch sign displays the access number of the launch and the distance in miles to the next access.  This sign is situated closest to the boat ramp or carry-down access.  Lastly, on-river access signs indicate to paddlers that a take-out location is present.  These signs are particularly helpful for beginners, for paddlers new to the area, and at areas where vegetation can obscure the visibility of an access.

The recommendations outlined in this document will also create some uniformity among the river access areas, which will help users navigate to and within each area.  In addition to the signs described on the previous page, wayfinding signs are also planned along public roadways leading to each river access.

Parking islands are planned at the majority of parking areas to help define the parking spaces and improve traffic flow.  On granular-surfaced parking lots, these vegetated parking islands may include native plantings, pollinator plantings, and/or trees.  On paved parking lots, parking spaces and islands can be delineated with paint striping.

Accessible Design

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a set of Federal civil-rights laws that prohibit discrimination based on disability.  ADA standards apply to a wide variety of public settings including paved trails, handicapped parking spaces, public restrooms, schools, and restaurants.  While ADA standards do not currently exist for boat launch design, universal design principles are applicable to this plan.  Universal launch design specifications include surface slope and smoothness, launch width, and near-water transfer areas.  Another design standard is the use of two side-by-side ramps, one for pedestrians and another for vehicles.

Accessible parking stalls include 10 by 10-foot staging areas at all sites feasible.  These are usually situated in one of the two vegetated parking islands.  Additional staging areas are also included near the boat launches, which can be used by people with disabilities or for general loading and unloading of canoeing and kayaking equipment.

Park managers should consider using compacted limestone fines for accessible sections of unpaved parking areas.  Materials that have been used successfully include a gradation of ¾-inch rock to fines spread, compacted, and wetted in layers.

Plantings and Buffer Strips

A variety of native and pollinator plantings can be included at each of the river access areas.  Cost estimates developed for this plan include native plant plugs at the cost of $4 per plug.  The majority of sites plans include a line item for native plantings.  Five site plans include more than 4,000 native plant plugs:  Cedar Bend Park, New Evansdale Access, Washington Park, Gilbertville Park, and Hope Martin Park.

All of the river accesses along the Cedar River and Black Hawk Creek experience flooding in some capacity on a regular basis.  Accordingly, plantings must be suitable for flood-prone areas and adaptable to wet conditions.  Figure 4-2 lists a variety of plants, grasses, and sedges park managers should consider when making improvements to river access areas:

Pedal Paddle

The majority of river accesses in this plan are within close proximity to a paved recreational trail.  Manual trail counts conducted by the Iowa Northland Regional Council of Government (INRCOG) in 2014 found that the majority of trail users in the Black Hawk County metropolitan area were bicyclists.  Altogether, 61.0 percent of trail users were adults on bicycles, 35.1 percent were walkers or runners, and 3.5 percent were children on bicycles.  Remote locations saw relatively higher shares of bicyclists, while locations close to a city center experienced a higher proportion of walkers and runners.

This relationship between the water trails and the paved trails network creates a unique opportunity of pedal paddle trips.  Of the 27 access areas described in this plan, only five accesses are not within close proximity to a paved recreational trail.  The remaining 22 accesses are either near a paved trail or, in some areas such as the Ranchero Road access, on the trail itself.  Figure 1-13 shows a map of the paved recreational trails network.

Pedal paddle trips can be conducted solo or with multiple people.  The process of a pedal paddle trip can be described in five steps, as shown in Figure 4-3:

    1. Drop off bicycle at downstream access
    2. Drive to upstream access and begin paddling
    3. Take out at downstream access and secure canoe or kayak
    4. Pedal back to vehicle parked at upstream access
    5. Load bike to vehicle and drive to downstream access to retrieve canoe or kayak

On a pedal paddle trip with multiple people, someone can wait at the take-out access after Step 3 while the other participant(s) pedal back to the vehicle.  This eliminates the need to secure the canoe or kayak to a fixed object.  It also provides more options for individual paddlers, as some individuals may decide to wait and rest while others may want the additional exercise of a bicycle ride.

Bike racks are included in the site plan recommendations for areas that will function as take-out accesses.  However, almost every access could conceivably function as a take-out for a pedal paddle trip.  The only accesses where bike parking may not be useful for pedal paddle trips are Tourist Park in Cedar Falls and the proposed Pioneer Park access in Waterloo due to their proximity immediately downstream of a dam.

Park managers should also consider further security improvements, such as surveillance cameras, bicycle lockers, and special parking areas for canoes and kayaks.  Typically, paddlers will use a long cable lock to tie-up their canoe or kayak to a fixed object such as a tree, similar to the way a bike would be tied to a bike rack.

Bike lockers provide additional security, which may be desired in both remote and urban settings.  Typically, bike lockers are administered by public transit authorities for use by transit passengers.  However, the potential exists to include these at select river accesses where high volumes of bicyclists are anticipated.  Some examples may include Black Hawk Park, Island Park, the Waterloo Boathouse, and the proposed marina in downtown Waterloo.

Recommendations Overview

Basis for Cost Estimates

This plan includes upward of $2.4 million in proposed improvements to access areas along the Cedar River and Black Hawk Creek.  These planned improvements are concept-level recommendations, and additional planning, permitting, and engineering may change the final design of these access areas.  The plan also acknowledges local projects underway in Cedar Falls and Waterloo which altogether could exceed $10 million in investment along the Cedar River.

Cost estimates were developed using a few assumptions.  The first assumption is that the parking lot improvements will include the cost of completely reconstructing the parking lot.  This includes the costs associated with excavation, grading, compaction, a new subbase, and new road stone.  Park managers may find that it is unnecessary to reconstruct the entire parking area at a particular site, which would reduce the total project cost in turn.

Parking lot costs also include the expense of wooden bollards, which are designed to limit the surface area impacted by automobiles while also allowing stormwater to flow into vegetated areas.  In many areas, wooden bollards are the single greatest expense of an entire project.  Most site plans also include an LED solar light near the boat ramp to assist with navigation after nightfall.

Further assumptions include the cost of materials and the value of the dollar.  Prices for delivered materials such as modified subbase and road stone were obtained in November 2018, and the cost of raw materials is known to fluctuate over time.  The value of the U.S. Dollar generally decreases due to inflation, so total costs for projects are expected to increase steadily as time progresses.  Assuming all other variables are constant, a steady inflation rate of 2.0 percent would increase a project cost from $100,000 in 2018 to $121,900 in 2028.  In actuality, the inflation rate for raw materials may be significantly higher than the national inflation rate.

Summary of Site Recommendations

A total of 27 river access areas along the Cedar River and Black Hawk Creek are directly addressed in this document.  These include existing accesses and future accesses planned in conjunction with each jurisdiction’s respective park manager.  Three access areas along the Cedar River are currently being developed locally, one in Cedar Falls and two in Waterloo, and information about these projects is also included in this document.  Additional areas of interest including portage routes and other recreational areas with an association to the water trails are described toward the end of this chapter.

Each access area reviewed as part of the Water Trails Master Plan is outlined in Figure 4-4.  The three projects being developed locally are shown in Figure 4-5.

The following pages provide a detailed description of each river access area reviewed as part of the Water Trails Master Plan.  Access areas are organized in geographical order starting with the northernmost access along the Cedar River.


Click on the following links to view the project recommendations for each jurisdiction: