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Let's Catch Up - May 2023

Updated: May 30, 2023


I have reserved the Ding Darling Shelter at Birdland Park from 5:30 to 7 p.m., Thursday, June 1. Join us if you can to celebrate the start of this year’s municipal elections.


The City is our home, and various endeavors, from neighbors and City agencies, are striving to make it more so, for more residents. Here’s the latest:


This year, homeowners in four Invest DSM target neighborhoods have completed 68 projects, totaling $3,371,635 in improvements, with $1,083,579 coming from Invest DSM reimbursements. The average homeowner project is $49,583, with property owners investing $2.11 for every Invest DSM dollar. The Franklin neighborhood accounts for 147 of the 274 applications.

Invest DSM reports 274 applicants in progress, with 90 grants signed and awaiting completion.


Fifteen teams have been selected for this year’s City-wide Block Challenge Grants, reports Heather Tamminga, neighborhood outreach coordinator for the City’s Neighborhood Services Department. The program provides up to $2,500 matching dollars per household for exterior home improvements. At least half the annual funding is reserved for areas where at least 51 percent of residents have low or moderate incomes.

Since 2021, 351 households have been awarded $679,364 in matching funds. Collectively, the impact is valued at $2.3 million.


One of the bills enacted at this year’s Iowa Legislature provides qualifying seniors 65 years and older with a new $3,250 homeowner’s exemption. This annual exemption—a reduction in your property’s taxable value rather than a direct reduction in the amount of tax you pay—is in addition to the current homestead tax credit. Legislators enacted a similar exemption for veterans.

Here’s a copy of the form, which contains other requirements. To qualify, you must mail your completed application by July 1, or present it to the county assessor’s office at room 195 in the Polk County Office Building, 111 Court Avenue.


On a recent Saturday in a parking lot at 39th Street and Grand Avenue, members of Central Presbyterian Church and friends completed a Habitat for Humanity “panel build,” assembling all exterior and interior walls for the 1,158-square-foot ranch house that will be constructed soon. Saturday’s panel build was the fourth in May for Habitat volunteers; 15 are scheduled this year.

The nonprofit values the panel-build volunteer labor at $3,750 on top of the $10,000 materials sponsorship. And the love and care for our neighbors is priceless.

Nailed it! Church member Sue Mattison helps Stacey Heston frame up a short wall.

Mike Basset, left, leads a team of six to stack one of the completed interior walls on a pallet.


Forget about the politics of blue, red, and purple—there’s a lot of colors on Des Moines streets.

The Des Moines Heritage Center recently hung posters assembled by local photographer Jim Zeller depicting colorful Des Moines.

For three years, Jim snapped photos of colorful homes while delivering prescriptions here and there. With the help of Christian Photography in Urbandale, Jim assembled seven posters—each displaying the 30 blue, green, orange, purple, red, and yellow homes he collected. With another 30 homes on the Patchwork Des Moines poster, Jim’s work captures 210 colorful Des Moines homes.

“These were all over town,” Jim recalled, “not any particular neighborhood. But I got lucky a few times and found more than one home on a block. But purple was really hard!”

Ingenious, Jim! And there’s not a single beige, taupe, or gray home in the collection.

“Jim's work has always been inspiring to me,” Rebecca Eckstrand, a local artist-friend said. “His ‘Colorful Des Moines’ posters highlight the independent homeowner who boldly chooses to paint their beloved homes in shimmering and brilliant combinations of color. Amazing and joyful!”

Scroll through the entire collection. Or stop by the Des Moines Heritage Center when you’re nearby.



Since enough lifeguards and pool attendants have signed on to fully staff all five City public swimming pools, residents can look forward to all facilities being open this summer, according to Ben Page, Des Moines Parks and Recreation director. Last year, a lifeguard shortage resulted in a schedule of rolling closures, when only four pools were open daily.

According to the parks website, most pools, aquatic centers and splash pools will officially open for the season Saturday, June 3. Wading pools will open Monday, June 5, with Ashworth Pool opening Saturday, June 9. (All openings are weather permitting.) Here’s more information, including how to get a season pass.

Ben also reports an expansion of the department’s FREE day camps, operated Mondays–Fridays. Sixteen teens have been hired to staff day camps for eight weeks at five locations: Columbus, Drake, Evelyn K. Davis, ML King, and Prospect parks. Last year, the program saved families an estimated $250,000 in childcare expenses.

Spoiler alert: The camps are at capacity except for a few slots at Prospect Park; 103 kids are on the waiting list. Inquire about openings.



Throughout the 40-plus neighborhood meetings I’ve attended this year, one common theme has always surfaced: People drive too fast through our streets. The Iowa State Patrol confirms that speeds are up, up, up on routes from interstate highways to county roads and residential streets.

Change—slower, responsible speeds—can’t come soon enough.

With the creative help from Mike Draper and company at RAYGUN, I developed two yard signs, each with a different message on opposite sides. In the photo above, Jeannine Ray, left, and Jack Leachman, Capitol East Neighborhood Association president, grab a couple of signs for their yard. Want a sign? I have a few remaining.


The words “spring” and “cleaning” go together like “Iowa” and “nice.” Throughout this spring, Neighbors and agencies have combined to do their bit to spruce up the City for summer. Here’s a roundup:

The Fun on Friday volunteers dropped off a dozen or so piles of trash—including tires, mailboxes and even a wading pool—when they cleaned along the Carl Voss Trail.


More than 5,600 caring volunteers stepped up April 21–May 15 to pick up trash from City parks, trails, and streets. In Des Moines, Parks and Recreation and Public Works volunteers donated nearly 7,000 hours, valued at more than $221,000—proof positive that residents care about our parks and trails. Woohoo!

Dedicated volunteers signed up to donate time at more than 70 sites metro-wide, according to Callie Le’au Courtright, Parks and Recreation supervisor of volunteer engagement. Besides gathering more than 29,000 pounds of litter, volunteers planted trees and strawberries, removed invasive species, and tackled tasks to improve the region’s water quality.

Earth Day Trash Bash is Iowa’s largest Earth Day event. Over the past 15 years, more than 55,000 volunteers have donated nearly $1.4 million in service and have cleared more than 600,000 pounds of litter, brush, and debris. Check out the fabulous collaborative work in this Earth Day Trash Bash video.

Interested in pitching in year-round? Parks & Recreation has seven parks available for adoption. And view all Parks and Rec volunteer opportunities. SCRUB DAYS: 77 TONS AND COUNTING

Des Moines residents continue to take full advantage of Spring Cleanup to Reduce Urban Blight (SCRUB) Days. By early May, City crews had delivered more than 77 tons of materials to the Metro Park East Landfill, not including the May 20 MEGA SCRUB Day at Polk County River Place.

SCRUB Days are no longer just about Spring! The next SCRUB Day is June 17. Here are details for accepted items and upcoming dates.


Last year, Des Moines Public Works crews picked up 2,703 tires illegally dumped in parks, greenways, and streets. And the City paid $16,600 to recycle the 38.52 tons of tires. That doesn’t include labor and equipment costs.

In 2023 we are already on a record pace: By May 1 the City had collected more than 1,400 tires, for which it paid nearly $9,000 in disposal fees.

The City recently added a boom truck to its fleet, which should make it easier to pick up tires and other illegally dumped items, as well as appliances on regular routes. In addition, Jonathan Gano, director of Public Works, expects this truck to reduce lifting-related injuries and resulting workers’ compensation claims. METRO RECYCLING FACILITY HITTING TARGETS

The $28 million Metro Recycling Facility (MRF), operating for 18 months at a sprawling 100,000-sq-ft building near Grimes, continues successfully selling recycled products. Managing the facility is the Metro Waste Authority, which counts Des Moines, Polk County, and 14 additional communities among its members.

The MRF processes 17 to 20 tons of what you deposit into your blue waste cart. More than 23,114 tons have gone through the no-wrap, non-round augers, which separate many materials before they reach the sorting team. This technology—used in only one other place in the world at the time of opening—has empowered the facility to tons of aluminum, milk jugs, paper, cardboard, glass, and aseptic containers such as drink and milk cartons. A few months ago, MRF was 15 percent over income projections.

The MRF also opened a second bottle-and-can redemption site in February, and it accepted its one millionth can in April. Between this and the pilot redemption site in Bondurant, which was opened last July, the program accepts an average of 100,000-plus containers each month.



When Katie and Andy James lived near South Union and Park Avenue, they transformed their “keep-it-mowed” lot into a showcase of native plants and insects. The neighbors dubbed it “Firefly Lane” because of all the midsummer lightning-bug activity.

The couple believes manicured lawns aren’t the be-all. “Our yard may have looked wild,” Katie said, “but it was intentional.”

Having purchased a 2-acre farm homestead on Easter Lake Drive, the couple, who post regularly on Instagram under Backyard Conservationists, are transforming their yard into turf for their son’s soccer goal, as well as an oak savanna. But mostly, they’re dedicating it to native prairie flowers.

The first step in transforming your yard, Katie says, is a mindset shift: All but about 3 percent of U.S. insects are beneficial. “When we stop vilifying insects,” Katie says, “we start improving our ecosystem, since insects are the foundation of our environment.”

Here’s the recipe for transforming your yard—or even a portion of it—to native plants: You need a healthy dose of patience; you won’t see results right away. “The first year, Andy said, “the seeds sleep. The second year, they creep. And the third year, they leap.” By then, he insists, “your yard will look like a full-grown prairie.” Ready to take the leap—or even take a few baby steps? The best starting place is usually one you don’t regularly visit. “Where you don't go,” Andy says, “you don't mow.” Here are the couple’s top five starter plants, photographed from their former South Union yard:

Goldenrod (late-summer blooming and is keystone species).

Pale Purple Coneflower (mid and late summer and is specifically native to Polk County)

Black-eyed Susan (mid to late summer)

Golden Alexander (springtime)

Prairie wild rose (Iowa’s state flower; blooms in late spring and early summer!

The Jameses rely on Blooming Prairie in Carlisle as a go-to source for plant material.

Got questions? Katie gives high-fives to the Polk County Conservation Board for advice and references.



Admiring a great blue heron—my absolute favorite bird—at Easter Lake or on the Raccoon or Des Moines River is a memorable treat. On a morning bike ride earlier this month, I spotted my first of the season, lifting off from Easter Lake.

Viewing a heron reminds me of conversations with Dave Hurd on the Fifth Street Bridge. On several chance meetings with Dave, a heron was wading downstream. Dave was quick to mention how we need to take care of Iowa’s waterways for all of the waterfowl habitats. After Dave’s death, Trudy gave me his heron lapel pin—the same pin that Dave used to spark conversation about waterways.

*Special thanks to Ira Lacher for your continued support of our monthly newsletter.

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