August 28, 2020

The West Des Moines Parks and Recreation Department completed their first of five signature projects as part of the Five Waters Project. The Raccoon River Park Boathouse opened on Thursday, July 23. The Boathouse is located in the 631-acre Raccoon River Park located at 2500 Grand Avenue in West Des Moines.

Construction on the state-of-the-art facility began in fall 2019. The facility offers boat lockers, restrooms and non-motorized boat rentals including canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, paddleboats and more. The Boathouse serves as a water trail and land trail hub and offers plenty of parking for easy access to Blue Heron Lake.

“We want everyone to have a chance to experience the beauty of Blue Heron Lake whether they own a boat or not. There are so many really nice areas that can only be explored from the water, and rentals at the Boathouse will make that possible,” said Sally Ortgies, Director of Parks and Recreation.

CanoeSport Outfitters was selected as the Boathouse Concessionaire earlier this year following a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. CanoeSport Outfitters has been providing quality paddle-sport instruction and adventure travel for 25 plus years. They have been successfully operating the Lake Ahquabi Boat Rental and Beach Concession in Indianola for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources since 1994.

The response from the community has been tremendous on the state-of-the-art facility, and we expect that to continue for years to come. Since opening on July 23, the Boathouse has seen a great turnout with both new users and seasoned water adventurers.

With a shortened first season due to the construction, West Des Moines Parks and Recreation will work closely with CanoeSport Outfitters to establish dates and hours of operations for the 2021 season. The Boathouse will be open by Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend and is open seven days a week.

“From the crowds we saw this year, we know this is going to be a tremendous addition to the quality of life in West Des Moines. Our staff will collaborate with CanoeSport Outfitters during the off-season and we hope to establish some additional programming at Blue Heron Lake in addition to the rentals,” stated Ryan Penning, Superintendent of Recreation.

The other unique component of the project was the addition of storage lockers that can be rented out year-round. Kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddle boards can be kept on site when you rent a locker through West Des Moines Parks and Recreation. We had 43 lockers available for this first year and 40 of those have already been rented. Just like the Boathouse, the lockers have been extremely popular. The lockers are very convenient in that they allow individuals to keep their vessels on site and not have to load and unload them every time they want to go out on the water. Because of the popularity, West Des Moines Parks and Recreation will be looking at the possibility of adding more locker units in the near future.

The Raccoon River Boathouse was funded by LOSST (Local Option Sales and Services Tax) monies and an Iowa Department of Natural Resources REAP (Resource Enhancement and Protection) grant. For more information on the Boathouse, visit or the RRP Boathouse Facebook page.

More information on the Five Waters Project can be found at

About the Author: Ryan Penning is the Superintendent of Recreation, West Des Moines Parks and Recreation. He was hired in May 2018 to manage and plan the delivery of recreation programs and the operation of recreation facilities for the Department. Those facilities include Valley Junction Activity Center, Aquatic Centers, Beach, Nature Lodge, Softball Complex, Baseball Complex, Archery Facility, Dog Park, Amphitheater, Boathouse and the RecPlex. Our staff plays an instrumental part of providing everyday enjoyment through people, parks and programs!