January 31, 2022

As we enter into the first full year of ICON Water Trails’ existence, it only seems appropriate to reflect on all that was accomplished in 2021. This project, which started as the bold dream of a few, has developed into a regional movement for conservation, safety and quality of life. With plenty of major benchmarks on the horizon, let’s take a moment to celebrate the victories of the last twelve months.


Capital Campaign

Thanks to the dedication of our Campaign Advisory Council and the leadership at the Great Outdoors Foundation, we closed out 2021 with more than $28 million raised toward the $33.5 million private fundraising goal. Major investments from key individuals and corporations were secured, including those from Dennis Albaugh, Athene Charitable Foundation, Casey’s Charities, Holmes Murphy, Tom and Linda Koehn, the Lauridsen Family, Meta, MidAmerican Energy, Nationwide Foundation, NCMIC, Polk County, and Wellmark. Additionally, we kicked off our first-ever grassroots fundraising campaign, 80 Days of ICON. This initiative raised more than $10,000 and increased the total number of private donors to more than 200.

Public Funding

In September, staff made a trip to D.C. to meet with the congressional delegation and advocate for ICON. The visit was very productive, and our team continues to work with our lobbyists and consultants to pursue all potential avenues of public funding, both federal and local. Another major win came in November of last year with the passing of the Polk County Water & Land Legacy Bond. With an 81% approval, this bond not only yields additional funding for ICON but also demonstrates the priority our region has placed on our waterways.

Regional Investment

MidAmerican was proud to invest $5 million — the largest investment in ICON thus far — enabling the launch of the MidAmerican Energy Regional Fund. The donation is a restricted fund that will provide grants to regional projects, allowing non-profits, municipalities and counties to activate their sites within the ICON Water Trails system. The first round of grants will be awarded later this spring.

Downtown Design

Last year yielded significant progress for the BUILD Grant sites and downtown design. The team was granted an extension on our original submission deadline, and we were able to submit our final plans to the Iowa Department of Transportation on September 21 — a key deadline tied to the $25 million BUILD Grant. Additionally, we completed the extensive permitting process needed to move forward with construction and conducted robust public outreach to the surrounding neighborhoods and user groups, particularly anglers.

We also took time to gather our stakeholders to regroup and consider design and strategy for Center Street and Fleur Drive, the two remaining dam mitigation projects planned for downtown Des Moines. Because these sites are the key to activating our self-sustaining business model, we are diligently working to fine-tune our timeline and leverage the momentum garnered over the last year.


Of course, our largest marketing initiative of 2021 was the brand launch of Iowa Confluence Water Trails — ICON for short. The capstone of the ICON brand, our new website, went live at the end of last year. It includes an interactive map, profiles on the various waterways and the history of the project — among other features. If you haven’t done so already, you can check out the new site here.


In July, we officially launched the ICON 501(c)(3), and for the first time in the project’s history, it became an independent organization. In alignment with our public-private funding model, we developed a governing board of directors and supporting committee structure. In October, we completed our governance process with twelve participating municipalities secured for year one.

We recognize that none of this work would be possible without the dedication of our supporters — volunteers, donors and community partners. With all that is ahead, we keep in mind the heart of ICON: connecting water, communities and people.

About the Authors:

Daniel J. Houston is Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Principal Financial Group® and Co-Chair of the ICON Water Trails Board of Directors. Houston joined the company in 1984 as a group representative. He held several management positions before assuming his current title in 2015. Houston serves on several boards including Business Roundtable, Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI), Iowa State University Business School Dean’s Advisory Council, Future Ready Iowa and Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA).

Kathryn Kunert is the Vice President of Economic Connections and Integration for MidAmerican Energy and former Vice-Chair of the Central Iowa Water Trails Board of Directors. She joined the government affairs department as a legislative grassroots coordinator in 1996. During her career, she has had responsibilities in the areas of government affairs, community relations and economic development. In her current role, Kathryn oversees key accounts, business and community development, franchises, and sponsorships and donations. She is very involved in local, regional and state community and economic development initiatives.

Matthew H. McKinney is a member of the BrownWinick Law Firm and chairs the firm’s government relations practice group. He is currently Co-Chair of the ICON Water Trails Board of Directors. In addition to a robust government relations practice, Matthew is active in the firm’s litigation and data security practices. Outside of his legal work, Matthew is involved with several local community organizations and serves on the West Des Moines City Council in the At-Large seat, representing all of West Des Moines.