The City of Johnston is taking a decommissioned retention lagoon and turning it into a beautiful eight-acre fishing lake that will be surrounded by a lawn for concerts and games, an open-air civic shelter for large gatherings, a picnic pavilion, smaller shelters, a fishing pier, trails, children’s play structures that will be handicap accessible and numerous native plantings. The project began in May and will have an estimated cost of $5,448,200, funded by grants, donations and tax dollars. The park will be something unlike any other in Johnston, and city leaders hope it will give residents a central gathering spot. They are excited to share plans for the new park with residents.
Terra Lake park has been in discussion for close to 10 years, according to Parks Director John Schmitz. The city obtained the piece of ground, which used to be a wastewater treatment plant, from Pioneer Hi-Bred.
“Over the course of time, the clay liner of the lagoon was compromised, and the water leaked out over the last few years,” Schmitz says. “About 10 years ago, the city started meeting with the neighborhood organizers and the park board to figure out what the best option would be for the site.”
City Manager Jim Sanders says although the project has been in the works for a long time, it has been pushed down in the priority list due to other projects taking precedence.
“With all the things we’ve had to do and address as far as infrastructure, it’s been out there, but it didn’t get into the priorities with the road and parks and trail projects that have been done over the last few years,” he says. “Then it got into our five-year capital improvement projects, and now it’s finally a priority.”
Sanders says the former wastewater treatment plant was becoming an eyesore, but to address a facility that large would be very expensive. City leaders have wanted to do something there for years, but due to the expense, it wasn’t moved forward. Now it has become a priority, and leaders are excited to see the project take shape.
The first phase of the project began in May, which features the lake structure itself. By the end of October, the lake structure will be complete, and the lake will be filled. The first phase also includes the addition of a new trail located on the east and north side of the lake as well as the manicured great lawn, which will give people a large, wide-open grassy area to use for recreation. Phase one work, which is being done by CJ Moyna and Sons Inc., includes site removals, earthwork, storm sewer utility, groundwater well, lake construction, pedestrian trail and site restoration.
Phase 2 begins next July, and residents will then start seeing the civic shelter structure being built as well as the completion of the great lawn. The fishing pier will also be constructed, and the parking area will be renovated. By the end of next fall, those areas should be ready for use, Schmitz says.
The final phase of the project includes a secondary parking area, picnic shelters, restrooms and the completion of the infrastructure, such as sidewalks. A playground area is also planned.
“In keeping with the feel of the park, it will be more natural,” Schmitz says. “It won’t look like a traditional playground with your bright reds and yellows, but there will be equipment for kids to play on. It will also be fully ADA compliant and accessible via wheelchairs.”
The park itself will be unlike any other in Johnston, with an eight-acre fishing lake that will most likely be stocked next spring. Schmitz says city leaders are working with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to ensure that they are getting the correct kind and number of fish.
“We want it to be as quality a fishery as we can develop,” Schmitz says.
The large green space developers are calling the great lawn will be an area that can be used for recreation, and it will be one of the few areas that’s manicured. The rest of the park will be fairly natural with native plantings.
In addition, soft trails will be developed within the adjacent Beaver Creek Natural Resources Area to accommodate walkers and runners who want to get off the hard trails. These will double as the perfect spot for cross-country skiing in the winter.
“We are working with Johnston schools and the cross country team on the natural resource area, which is adjacent to the park, and we will be doing some grass and soft trails in the natural resource area,” Schmitz says. “We hope that in two or three years, they’ll be able to host cross country meets out here.”
Plans are also in the works for an addition to the adjacent Crown Point Community Center to add more programming space for the city’s senior programs, and to introduce new outdoor educational and experiential learning programs.
“We are working with Polk County Conservation about doing educational programming and public programming and school programming, and the park area will give us a unique place to have that programming,” Schmitz says.
Patti Petersen-Keys, environmental education coordinator, says she sees the park being used for school field trips and educational programming as well as adult education programs. She says people love to be near water, and the lake will offer some new opportunities for people in Johnston.
“The new craze right now is stand-up paddle boarding,” she says. “Having that lake out there would be a great place for people to do that as well as recreational canoeing and kayaking. Water just draws people, and we know how popular Gray’s Lake is, and people just like being able to walk around a body of water, too.”
Central gathering place
The Terra Lake project will also tie three integral areas — Terra Park, Beaver Creek Natural Resources Area and Crown Point Community Center — together to create a massive, 200-acre park to be enjoyed by the residents of Johnston and people from across the Des Moines metro.
“It will serve the neighborhood as well as the whole community,” Sanders says. “It’s adjacent to Beaver Creek, which features 156 acres of trails, and it ties in Crown Point, so it connects from our trail system to the rest of the metro. We think it will be a new hub of activity. It will be a great project, and it’s taking land that is totally underutilized and making a great public purpose out of it as well.”
The park will feature three different types of shelters. The civic shelter will serve as the new hub of the city, Schmitz says. It will be a place to have concerts and events. There will also be a picnic shelter with restrooms and a couple smaller picnic shelters for residents to gather for reunions or birthdays.
“The intent is for it to be the center draw of our community,” Schmitz says. “It is towards the center of Johnston, and we have trails coming into it from all over the community, and we have a lot of green space bordering the project site. It will give residents a nice relaxed environment.”
Sanders says he thinks the new park will be a huge draw for people in Johnston, and even those around the metro. Specific events aren’t currently planned, but the park could feature things like art in the park or Jazz in July.
“We feel like it will be a signature park in our community.” he says. “It will have trees, but also a big open area where people can go fly kites or play Frisbee. It should be a great gathering place for all members of our community.”