AMES, Iowa (AP) — Ames’ Ada Hayden Heritage Park Lake is now home to one of the few accessible kayak and canoe launches in the state.

The launch allows those who use wheelchairs or have other mobility issues to transition more easily into a canoe or kayak to paddle the lake. The Access Ada Hayden project is a partnership between the city of Ames and local outdoor enthusiasts Skunk River Paddlers, and is now open for use.

“One of our goals in improving our recreational amenities is to ensure all residents can enjoy being outdoors,” Ames Parks and Recreation Director Keith Abraham said in a news release. “We continue to seek ways to expand parks, facilities and programs to be inclusive.”

The launch will be used by people like David Denhaan, of Ames, who grew up boating at his grandparents’ cabin on the Au Sable River in Michigan.

“I’ve always been out in a canoe,” he said.

Denhaan has spina bifida, a spinal cord birth defect, and uses a wheelchair. Yet he’s managed to still do his favorite activity: kayaking.

“I’ve always dealt with accessibility issues, but I’ve always seemed to make it work for myself,” Denhaan said last month.

He met with the Ames Parks and Recreation staff and the group Skunk River Paddlers to evaluate the launch’s install on Aug. 26.

The launch includes a new concrete walkway, a floating metal dock and a chute, which is used to transfer a boat from the bank to the water. A bench lays over the boat, allowing a person to transition from the dock into the seat. They then grab a system of overhead ropes to pull themselves into their boat.

The new accessible system is for paddlers with all kinds of mobility issues, from those who use wheelchairs to people using crutches due to an injury or recent surgery, Abraham told the Ames Tribune.

The launch, which cost about $90,000, still needs some work, including leveling the lake’s bank and covering a portion of the concrete walkway with outdoor carpeting, which allows wheelchair users to drag their boats without scratching them, he said.

Denhaan said he likes to kayak the Skunk and Des Moines rivers. But finding a boat launch accessible to people with mobility issues in Iowa is not easy.

Calls and emails to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, cities and counties across Iowa turned up only two other accessible boat launches in the state. That’s despite 9% of Iowans having a mobility challenge in 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2019, the DNR installed an American with Disabilities Act-accessible canoe and kayak launch at Red Haw State Park near Chariton. Money for the launch was donated by the Clarence Ormond Landrum Trust, which gave $36,000.

And Des Moines installed an EZ-Launch, similar to the one in Ames, at Gray’s Lake Park in 2013.

Polk County plans a major accessible project at Easter Lake, which includes a similar boat launch, as well as zero-entry ramps, adaptive recreation equipment, wide sidewalks for wheelchair users to access the shorefront, and a de-escalation room for people with sensory disorders, according to a news release. Easter Lake is in southeast Des Moines.

Polk County Conservation Community Outreach Supervisor Jessica Lown said in a news release the county is attempting to make Easter Lake Park’s north shore “the most accessible park in America.” It will be called the Athene North Shore Recreation Area.

“This development project at Easter Lake Park will be a unique amenity in Polk County because it was conceived and developed with the singular goal of creating the most universally designed, accessible park in the country,” Lown said in the release.

A groundbreaking is scheduled in October, with opening set for spring 2024.

The effort in Ames was started by Skunk River Paddlers, Abraham said.

“They came to a public meeting for the parks and recreation improvement plan three years ago and pitched this idea,” he said. “We took the idea to the Parks and Recreation Commission and the council. They all loved the idea.”

Abraham said the city committed up to $50,000 for the project and Skunk River Paddlers, operating under Access Ada Hayden, agreed to raise another $35,000. The local group ended up raising more, at $36,164, with donations from the Story County Foundation, the DNR and an anonymous donor who made a cedar-strip canoe that was raffled off for nearly $4,000.

“This particular project was unique to the paddlers,” said Rick Deitz with Skunk River Paddlers. “We’re used to doing river cleanups and water trail development. This was quite a big step up for everyone to do the fundraising part of it. It’s quite an accomplishment for us.”

Cindy Barrowcliff, also with Skunk River Paddlers, said the group is committed to access for all. Members meet at the Ada Hayden lake every Wednesday from 6:30 p.m. to dusk to build community and teach paddling skills.

“Bring your boat and join us, or get ahold of us and we’ll bring a boat for you to learn how to use it. Anybody can do this. This launch isn’t meant for only mobility impaired persons,” she said.

The group’s website is skunkriverpaddlers.org.

Abraham said his department is committed to finding new ways to be more inclusive and accessible at all of the city’s parks and facilities.

Ames is installing an accessible splash pad at Daley Park, 340 Wilder Boulevard, which will be complete in 2023. And he said the department is working with a local service group that wants to raise up to $40,000 for an inclusive swing at an Ames park. Those details aren’t ironed out.

The city also has hired WT Group out of Chicago to conduct an Americans with Disabilities Act audit for the department.

“They will put together a transition plan and this fall we will have some public meetings where people will review it and give us some input,” Abraham said. “So that will really give us an idea of how to make things more accessible or more compliant with the American with Disabilities Act.”