Government

Riverfront greenway begins to emerge in Cedar Rapids

Three practice fields are in the works on Cedar Rapid's west side

Crews with Stevens Erosion Control spray seeded greenway in Czech Village in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday,
Crews with Stevens Erosion Control spray seeded greenway in Czech Village in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Turns out that it’s not as easy as you might think to transform what had been the yards of hundreds of flood-ruined homes into ball fields in the city’s emerging riverside greenway.

Proof of that is the heavy equipment working along the river in Time Check and at Czech Village, scraping up topsoil so it can be sifted, screened, and cleaned before being put in place to make practice ball fields for football, soccer, and other activities.

Pieces of demolition debris, glass, steel, sewer tile, roots, rocks and much else has been screened from the soil so sharp edges don’t tear up youngsters when the place where blocks of homes once stood becomes practice fields, said Steve Krug, landscape architect for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

For now, two ball fields about 125 yards by 55 yards are being constructed in the Time Check greenway and one of similar size at the Czech Village greenway below the village’s commercial main street.

Sven Leff, the parks and recreation director, said youth football and soccer leagues are ready to use the fields when they are done late next spring or early summer.

The ball field construction is part of an initial $944,000 city contract to remove streets, sidewalks and underground water mains and sewers that are no longer needed by the sprinkling of homes that still remain where the 70-acre Time Check greenway and the 35-acre Czech Village greenway are starting to take shape. The contract also includes the removal of concrete landscaping features in the narrow, 15-acre greenway at Kingston Village.

“We’ve got our starting point,” Leff said. “All of that land is pretty much becoming greenway park space. And we’ll probably be working the land forever as we improve it and maintain it and make it into the eventual vision of what the greenway is to become.”

None of the fields, he said, will be permanent and so only so much work is going into them.

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A final version of playing fields and their exact location — as is the case with the entire mix of trails, native plantings and a variety of park amenities that are coming to the greenway — will need to wait as the city completes construction of its flood control system in phases.

“The flood protection system is the cake, and the greenway is the icing on the cake,” Leff said.

This summer, the City Council approved a final alignment for the system.

Krug said a gradually sloping earthen levee to be built at Time Check will permit permanent playing fields to be built between the river and the levee, and perhaps, behind the levee as well.

Leff said the timeline for the construction of flood control has changed from late 2013 when the city secured $264 million to help pay for a significant share of the system. Back then, the idea was to start north and move south along the river. Now the plan is to build the system at low-lying New Bohemia and across the river at Czech Village in the next five years, and work north to Time Check. It could be a decade or more before work begins in Time Check, so the two practice fields going in will be there for years.

With the final alignment of the flood control system in place, Leff said two permanent features of the greenway will be built sooner than later.

The first is a skate park planned on existing park space on the west side of the river across from Quaker Oats.

The second is a plaza below the Czech Village commercial area that will provide additional parking and a spot for the Roundhouse, the former home of the village’s farmers market before the 2008 flood.

Work now being done in the riverfront greenway in Kingston Village is making it ready when the time comes to put the posts for removable flood walls in place between the river and First Street SW, Leff said.

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He said it is important to remember that as the greenway plan is a 15-to-20-year project, some of the elements will take years to put in place.

Some months ago, the city said there were a couple dozen properties still occupied along the river that would eventually be in the way of the flood control system and the greenway. In recent months, the city has bought out five of those properties, said Rita Rasmussen, the city’s senior real estate manager.

Seger called the transformation “bittersweet.”

“This was a wonderful part of Cedar Rapids with block after block of homes to hundreds and hundreds of descendants of the variety of cultures vital to the life of this city,” she said.

She said she hopes she lives long enough to see flood protection in place in Time Check and new homes and businesses built to fill in behind it.

“Lovely parks and stretches of empty riverbanks can be peaceful, but a vibrant community needs people to bring these neighborhoods back to life,” Seger said.

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