4.2 Cedar Falls

Island Park

Jurisdiction: City of Cedar Falls
Access number: 171A
Launch type: Boat ramp
Next segment skill level: Advanced, portage
Next segment classification: Challenge, portage
Distance to next access: Portage, 0.4 miles (currently), 0.2 miles (planned)

Island Park is a large open park northwest of downtown Cedar Falls.  The existing access to the Cedar River is at the northern end of the park.  The river access includes two separate boat ramps, each with docking areas, and a large paved parking lot.  Public restrooms, a shelter, and a beach volleyball area are all within close proximity to the boat ramps.  A paved recreational trail runs through the park which connects seamlessly to numerous parks and other river access areas.

Flooding is a significant maintenance issue at Island Park.  While flooding is common at most parks, Island Park in particular becomes inundated with large amounts of sand after flood events.  Sometimes the sand can reach two to three feet in height.  City crews regularly clear the park after flood events using skid steer loaders to transport the sand.  In normal conditions, it might seem like Island Park is a good candidate for vegetated filter strips.  However, the large volumes of sand would promptly negate any infiltration benefits, and maintaining the plantings would be very challenging.  Accordingly, vegetated filter strips are not recommended for this site.

The newly-constructed Island Park Beach House anchors the southern end of the park.  The Beach House includes private boat parking during the summer months and public restrooms which are accessible from the outside.  The paved trail continues past the Beach House underneath the Center Street/Franklin Street Bridge toward Tourist Park to the east.  This trail could be used as a portage route around the Cedar Falls dam, and an additional take-out for paddlers may be considered here.

Public Comments

One written comment was received regarding Island Park:

  • “Kayak docks at Island Park to get them in and out safely” – Cedar Falls resident

In addition, one respondent indicated they would like restrooms open during the winter at Island Park.

Site Recommendations

There are two sets of recommendations for Island Park.  Few improvements are planned for the existing access area at the north end of the park.  Paint striping on the existing parking lot can help maximize the number of usable parking spaces.  Three signs should be installed near the existing boat ramps:

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

The area immediately upstream of the Island Park Beach House provides a unique opportunity for a take-out ramp for paddlers.  This ramp can serve as a normal access area with parking, and also as a portage route around the Cedar Falls Dam to the Tourist Park access area.  Adding this access would reduce the distance required to portage around the dam from about 0.4 miles to 0.2 miles.  This new ramp should be constructed in conjunction with the proposed improvements at Tourist Park, to create a continuous portage route around the dam.

This proposed access is also within walking distance to the public restrooms at the Beach House.  While the ramp and restrooms are publicly accessible, the docks for motorized boats are privately maintained by the North Shore Boat Club.  Motorized boaters who are not members must use the boat ramps at the north end of the park.

Cost Estimate

Signage Plan

Olsen Park

Jurisdiction: City of Cedar Falls
Access number: None
Launch type: Boat tie-up
Next segment skill level: Advanced, portage
Next segment classification: Challenge, portage
Distance to next access: Not applicable, tie-up only

Olsen Park was mentioned numerous times by members of the public during the public input meetings.  Participants described their interest in docking their boat at Olsen Park and walking to events at Overman Park, about 0.2 miles away.  Currently, walking distance to Overman Park is nearly 0.5 miles from Island Park for North Shore Boat Club members and nearly 0.8 miles for all other boaters.  In addition to Overman Park, boaters parked at Olsen Park would also be within 0.3 miles of the Downtown Cedar Falls business district.

Olsen Park is situated across Franklin Street from the Cedar Falls Ice House Museum.  Multiple paved trails connect the Ice House Museum to the surrounding sidewalks, including a trail that extends into Olsen Park underneath the Center Street/Franklin Street Bridge.  This trail segment could be extended further to the riverfront at Olsen Park for boaters putting in and taking out.  The existing shelter at Olsen Park could also be connected to such a trail., and could serve as a place for boaters to rest or to load and unload their belongings.

Public Comments

Four written comments were received regarding Olsen Park, which led to its inclusion in the Master Plan:

  • “Improve the shoreline where Olsen’s Boat House used to be so you can easily park a boat” – Cedar Falls resident
  • “[Add] kayak parking at Olsen’s boathouse shelter for easy access to Farmer’s market and live music at Boathouse” – Cedar Falls resident
  • “City docks at Olson’s Park would be nice.” – Cedar Falls resident
  • “[Add] boat or marina for south side of river north of dam” – Cedar Falls resident

Site Recommendations

After consideration of multiple alternatives, City staff determined that boat tie-ups with bumpers on the existing concrete wall would be the preferred fixture for boaters at this location.  The proposed improvements extend the existing trail to the river’s edge and include a spur trail to connect to the existing shelter.  Pollinator plantings are also planned which will improve the habitat for pollinators and serve as a visual buffer between the trail and the surrounding automobile traffic and railroad tracks.

The long-term plan for Olsen Park will be decided as part of Phase Two of the City’s riverfront improvements project.  The City’s master plan for the project identifies a future portage path extending from the inlet at Olsen Park, past the Ice House Museum, to a put-in location near the existing railroad bridge.

The plan also includes the complete removal of the City’s dam, and the installation of a multiple drop whitewater feature spanning the entire river width.  This drop feature would need to compensate for the drop in river level currently maintained by the dam, and therefore would need to cover a significant distance.  Further study will determine the appropriate improvement at this location.

Cost Estimate

This cost estimate only reflects the cost of improvements shown in Figure 4-21, not the improvements included in Phase Two of the city’s riverfront improvements project.


Because the Olsen Park tie-up area is accessible only by river or paved trail, no wayfinding signage is planned as part of the Water Trails Master Plan.  When the City completes Phase Two of the riverfront improvements project, signage to the Sturgis Park parking lot near the Ice House Museum could be added.  This parking lot could become the primary parking area for the proposed whitewater features.

Tourist Park

Jurisdiction: City of Cedar Falls
Access number: 171B
Launch type: Carry-down only
Next segment skill level: Advanced
Next segment classification: Challenge
Distance to next access: 0.2 miles

Tourist Park is a popular destination for disc golfers, and is situated immediately east of the Island Park Beach House.  The Tourist Park river access is the first access downstream of the Cedar Falls Dam.  It is one of the few river accesses without a boat ramp.  Instead, paddlers can access the water from the sandy beach area.  The sandy area can become muddy, however, making the access less than ideal for beginners.

Low water levels and the access’s proximity to the Cedar Falls Dam make paddling from this access more challenging than most in the county.  Beginners will be better suited to put in at an access further downstream, such as Washington Park or Gateway Park after completion of the city’s riverfront improvements project.

Tourist Park includes restrooms situated atop a small dike, and an existing staircase east of the restrooms.  The City has tentative plans to eliminate the restrooms at Tourist Park, since the restrooms in the Island Park Beach House are a short walking distance away.

There were no public comments received regarding Tourist Park.

Site Recommendations

The main improvement proposed for Tourist Park is a granular walking trail to the river access.  This trail should be constructed in conjunction with the proposed paddlers take-out ramp at Island Park to create a continuous portage route around the Cedar Falls Dam.  The planned alignment of the trail was chosen to avoid conflicts with disc golf players and to take advantage of the existing staircase.

Paddlers portaging from Island Park can walk along the existing trail under the Center Street/Franklin Street Bridge to reach Tourist Park.  Paddlers can also park at either Tourist Park or at the Island Park Beach House and use the trail to reach the access.  No parking improvements are planned at Tourist Park.  Over 50 parking spaces are available at the Island Park Beach House immediately to the west.

The City is in the early planning stages of a two-phase riverfront improvements project, and Phase Two will involve improvements to mitigate the dam hazard near Tourist Park.  Planned improvements for the riverfront improvements project, identified in March 2017, include a portage route from the Island Park Beach House to the Tourist Park river access.  This recommendation is reiterated and further defined by the proposed trail described above.

Cost Estimate


Downtown Cedar Falls Riverfront / Gateway Park

Jurisdiction: City of Cedar Falls
Access number: 170A
Launch type: Carry-down only
Next segment skill level: Advanced (currently), multiple skill levels (planned)
Next segment classification: Challenge (currently), Gateway (planned)
Distance to next access: 0.9 miles

The City of Cedar Falls has begun planning for a showcase riverfront enhancement project within walking distance to the downtown business district.  The project will provide direct access to the Cedar River for paddlers and parkgoers, and will include in-water improvements to allow for whitewater activities.  The overall riverfront improvements project will be implemented in two phases, and Gateway Park is included in Phase One.

Currently, Gateway Park includes a paved recreational trail and two carry-down river accesses.  The park also includes public restrooms, a large shelter with electricity and water, a small shelter, and playground equipment.  Most of the planned improvements at Gateway Park are situated between the existing recreational trail and the river.

Riverfront improvements are also planned across the river along the South Riverside Trail at Peter Melendy Park.  A put-in access and take-out access are planned for both sides of the river.  Recreational whitewater features are also planned along both sides.  The take-out area along the South Riverside Trail can be developed into a unique, multi-tiered open space for relaxing and watching river activities.

Upon completion of Phase One, Gateway Park and Peter Melendy Park will serve as the beginning of the Gateway section of the Cedar River Water Trail.  While the proposed drop structures may be challenging for some, the project will be developed with users of all abilities in mind.  Low water levels may still prove challenging for some paddlers when the river is down.  Under normal conditions, most paddlers with some experience should find the new improvements exciting and an enjoyable start to their journey down river.

Public Comments

Three comments were received about Gateway Park and the Downtown Cedar Falls area:

  • “[I would like] having access to dock below the 1st bridge in CF so we could tie up to go get food on Main St.” – Waterloo resident
  • “[I would like a] ramp at Gateway Park” – Cedar Falls resident
  • “[I would like] whitewater in Cedar Falls and/or Waterloo” – Waterloo resident

Also, as shown in Figure 3-13, several comments were received regarding river improvements in downtown areas.  Many respondents indicated they wanted improved accesses, access signage, and a place to secure their boats.  Additional suggestions by the public included the following:

  • Plaza with tables
  • Shaded areas
  • Seating and viewing areas
  • Bike racks or lockers
  • Signage to restrooms, shelters, and drinking water
  • Information kiosk showing river accesses and destinations
  • Trash and recycling containers

Site Recommendations

As previously described, the City of Cedar Falls is currently planning a riverfront improvement project along both sides of the Cedar River.  Specific improvements planned for this project include two plazas, a splash pad or fountain, stone seating, and a gateway monument at Gateway Park.  Additional sloping paths are also planned between the existing recreational trail and the river’s edge.  These paths will create a route for more leisurely foot traffic, while the existing trail will serve through traffic including bicycles more efficiently.

Most people visiting the new improvements will likely park at Gateway Park, as it has the closest parking lot to the project area.  Likewise, people who live, work, or do business in Downtown Cedar Falls may be more likely to access the project area on foot from Peter Melendy Park along the south side of the river.  Signage directing foot traffic to the put-in river access is recommended on both sides.

Cost Estimate

The City of Cedar Falls has hired a group of consulting firms to help develop the riverfront improvements project.  The cost estimate provided above was developed by the project team, and was presented at a public informational meeting on October 2018.


Washington Park

Jurisdiction: City of Cedar Falls
Access number: 170B
Launch type: Boat ramp
Next segment skill level: Beginner
Next segment classification: Gateway
Distance to next access: 2.0 miles

Currently, Washington Park begins the Gateway section of the Cedar River Water Trail.  There are no rapids or rocky areas downstream of Washington Park, unlike the shallower area near Gateway Park upstream.  Most beginners would find a day trip from Washington Park to the Waterloo Boathouse, 6.3 miles downstream, easy and enjoyable.

Washington Park is a former golf course turned open park space.  Frequent flooding made it difficult for the City to maintain the space as a golf course.  The park itself is roughly 60 acres total, with around 41 acres of open greenspace.  A public restroom, parking area, and baseball diamond are situated near the park entrance.  The boat ramp is about 1,550 feet (or 0.3 miles) past the public restrooms.  The park also includes six shelters, playground equipment, and a bike trail loop around the park.

Situated behind Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) and the city’s water reclamation facility, Washington Park is largely detached from the surrounding residential area.  Floodwalls and a railroad crossing define the park entrance, and it would be easy to mistake the entrance for an industrial site.  Adding wayfinding signage on State Street would greatly improve navigation to the park.  Also, adding a park entrance sign on East 9th Street before the railroad crossing would help visitors confirm they are headed in the right direction.

The boat ramp at Washington Park tends to become filled with dirt after high water events.  However, this is not a major problem for most paddlers.  If the ramp becomes particularly muddy, motorized boaters and people with difficulty balancing may find it easier to put in at George Wyth State Park downstream.

No public comments were received regarding Washington Park.

Site Recommendations

Recommendations for Washington Park mainly involve improvements to the parking area.  Two vegetated parking islands with pollinator plants are included to create seven (7) pull-through paces including one accessible parking space.  The parking islands also improve circulation for boaters entering and exiting the river.  In addition, 11 standard parking spaces including one additional accessible space are defined for the planned parking area.

The existing boat ramp is in good condition overall, and can be reinforced with class B revetment rock. Additionally, two filter strips are planned in order to treat runoff from the parking lot and restore the riparian area.

Cost Estimate

Not included in the cost estimate above is an entrance sign for Washington Park.  As previously mentioned, a park entrance sign would greatly improve visibility and navigation to the park.  The Water Trails Master Plan supports any effort to improve visibility to Washington Park.