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Let's Catch Up: September


Derecho cleanup. Ten days after the derecho marauded through Des Moines on Aug. 10, leveling trees and power lines, the city began the cleanup. Public Works crews have hauled 9,261 loads to the MWA Compost Center at 1601 Harriett Street. In a few days, a bad-boy Vermeer tree shredder, manufactured in Pella, will arrive to reduce the piles. More details about curb pickups.

How to View New Police Policies. The City Council is deep into discussing how to reform police policies and procedures. You can now view half of the reformed DMPD General Orders on the Des Moines City website. Here’s a quick link. The remaining 15 DMPD chapters are still under review. The Council will take up chapters involving the use of force and body cameras at our Nov. 17 work session.

Almost Famous Opens in East Village. Almost Famous, a Cedar Rapids family-owned shop specializing in popcorn and ice cream, opened in late July on East Locust Street. Top personal favorites, Wisconsin White Cheddar popcorn and Zanzibar Chocolate ice cream, demolish all willpower. Please restrain me from entering if you notice me in the vicinity—of which I have been often.

Ride On! Des Moines Parks & Recreation has opened a new multi-use hiking and biking trail that connects Southeast First Street, near Mullet’s, to Easter Lake—about a 4½-mile pedal. “The trail is lovely, and I imagine it is going to be the prettiest trail in Central Iowa when the autumn leaves give it plenty of color,” writes Maryann Mori, noting the deep woods and terrain. Look for a trail dedication in the spring.

With this trail’s completion, there’s just a 3-mile gap between Des Moines and Carlisle. At its Sept. 14 meeting, the City Council approved a $400,000 grant application to help fund the anticipated $2.8 million cost of the final link, including a tunnel beneath Highway 65. Carlisle and the Warren County Conservation Board are co-applicants. 

Free Meals Program Wraps Up. In the past three months, the City of Des Moines distributed more than 10,000 meals through $350,000 in COVID-19 relief funds. A dozen or more sites were regular sites. Central Iowa Shelters and Services partnered with the City of Des Moines to organize the program.

Rental/mortgage Assistance Continues. Polk County and the City of Des Moines continue through the fall to avoid stave off evictions. Des Moines has $684,970 COVID-19 funds to distribute through HOME Inc. Polk County distributed about $500,000 in COVID-19 funds. City-directed funds alone should assist about 750 households, according to Community Development Director Chris Johansen.  One of the funds, managed by HOME Inc, receives about 150 calls a week, double the normal intake. Polk County Housing Trust Fund has helped residents at the courthouse before they have their actual eviction hearings to pay rent arrears and prevent eviction as well. 

Have you seen the “I’m Invested” yard signs popping up around Des Moines?

These signs—now in about 200 yards—are the first evidence of Invest DSM, a nonprofit venture of Polk County and the City of Des Moines, created late last year to improve four targeted neighborhoods. 

Earlier this year, Invest DSM awarded its first Block Challenge Grants to residents in all four neighborhoods: Oak Park/Highland Park, Drake, Franklin and Columbus Park. Among the first to sign up were homeowners on a four-block section along 44th Street, from University Avenue to College Avenue. 

Teva Dawson, a member of the Invest DSM stakeholder committee for the Franklin neighborhood, told her friend Missy Keenan, a 44th Street resident, about the challenge. Missy knew what a good program looked like without much of a sell:

  • Invest DSM reimburses 50% of the cost of exterior homeowner improvements (think curb appeal) when neighbors gather five or more households. If neighbors gather more than 10 households, Invest DSM awards a greater amount.

  • Easy-peasy process: Get one contractor proposal or gather a list of project items.

  • Submit a “before” photo.

  • Finish the project, and Invest DSM returns a match of up to $2,500 to the investing homeowners.

Through the 2020 Block Challenge programs, 219 homeowners and Invest DSM have put more than $885,000 into single-family homes. The Invest DSM share tallies about $361,000. I stopped by three 44th Street homes to learn impressions of the Block Challenge. 

A Co-Captain Steps Up

Anna and Adam Mason

Anna and Adam Mason have lived along 44th Street for a decade. With Invest DSM’s support, the couple replaced crumbling front steps, created raised beds around their front porch, and freshened up their landscaping. Total cost: $7,425.34 Invest DSM grant: $2,500.

Early on, Missy recruited Anna to serve as co-captain for the 44th Street effort. After creating a one-page program explanation, the neighbors dropped leaflets at each front door, and hosted a Zoom call to handle questions. Intending to get 10 households signed up for the Block Challenge, Missy and Anna submitted proposals for—wait for it—28 residents on 44th Street. Wowzers! Off and running.

“When I heard it was so easy to join,” Anna said, “of course we said ‘Yes!’ We needed to replace the steps since we moved in, so this was an easy decision.

“Missy recruited me to help out, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know our neighbors. I now know the names of 10 additional neighbors to call by name … not just by their dogs’ names!

Missy Keenan

Anna also has joined the Waveland Park Neighborhood Association and begun participating in meetings. “It’s a good feeling to be part of a neighborhood,” she says. “Our entire street looks so cheerful.”

Recent Residents’ DIY

Joe and Melinda Doerhoff are relatively new to the 44th Street neighborhood—just a tick over two years—and were eager to make changes to their home. They didn’t need a calculator to figure out the advantages of completing several to-do tasks. Their summer projects included replacing front windows, repairing the front porch, and installing a new garage door and new garage entry door. Total cost: $5,678. Invest DSM grant: $2,500.

Melinda and Joe Doerhoff

Aside from the difficulty finding a reputable company to repair their home’s stucco (the Des Moines area has few such contractors), Joe and Melinda couldn’t have been more pleased with Invest DSM’s application process, speedy approval, and quick reimbursement.

To stretch their grant dollars, the Doerhoffs completed most of the upgrades themselves. “We had a lot of neighbors stop by and talk to us,” Joe recalls. “When I started tearing out the old porch stairs, they were amazed we were doing the work ourselves.”

Joe built new porch steps and replaced the porch deck with maintenance-free composite flooring. With the stucco repaired, Joe painted the entire exterior a fresh green. “The original blue had to go,” Melinda says. “Some of the neighbors had fun guessing what shade of green we would pick.” A former owner walked through their house and filled in details about what it looked like 30 years ago.

Pollinating Friendship

Melanie and Brian Johnson

Up the street from the Doerhoffs, Melanie and Brian Johnson built new patios by their front door, and where a dying ash tree shaded most of the front yard, added raised beds loaded with native plants. “I already had designed the new plant beds, Melanie says, “so working up a materials list, plant list, and budget was easy.” Total cost: $2,000. Invest DSM grant: $1,000.

The plants brought welcomed pollinators. “This summer, we counted six different varieties of bees in the yard,” Melanie recalls. “It’s been a lot of fun for the kids, too! And we discovered that across the street, our neighbor Mike Buckley has beehive boxes in his backyard. Mike is so pleased to see more pollinators in the neighborhood.” As a result of the horticulture, Melanie has become a go-to neighborhood resource for outdoor plants.

Melanie also started a 44th Street Facebook group and organized the street’s first All Yards Art Show, which drew 10 participants—and plenty of smiles. 

Businesses benefited along the way, owing to the 44th Street neighbors compiling a list of reliable landscapers. Schultes Horticulture and Landscaping, based a few blocks away, picked up seven customers on 44th Street and his own 42nd Street Block Challenge. So did the Benjamin Moore experts at the Woodsmith Store, which impressed several neighbors. There’s also now a short list of reliable contractors and concrete crews.

A Homeowner Renovation Program is planned for 2021. Learn more about Invest DSM here. COMMUNITY GARDEN OPENS IN CHEATOM PARK

September 15 was a big day for Eagle Scout candidate Nick Watson. Nick, 17, and Troop 50 scouts were on hand with Cheatom Park neighbors, representatives of the Des Moines homeless-support group Joppa, and other partners to cut the ribbon on Shared Roots, a community garden occupying a formerly vacant lot at 1010 13th Street. (St. Paul AME Church is across the street.)

Nick Watson

Volunteers donating more than 1,000 hours created 75 raised garden beds and added more than 100 cubic feet of topsoil and compost. Nick’s plan included carved-out space for two 300-gallon water tanks. A new chain-link fence now rings the gardens. Several neighbors are now harvesting fruits from their efforts. 

The garden’s southern edge borders the western path of Day Street before the construction of I-235 shredded the Cheatom Park neighborhood in the late 1950s and 60s.

In the coming days, Des Moines Parks & Recreation staff will remove scrub trees between the gardens and I-235, opening a new vista to downtown Des Moines. NEIGHBORHOOD WATCHDOG UNCOVERS NEW SCAM

Stefanie Running takes seriously moderating the Gray’s Lake Neighborhood Association’s private Facebook page. Before adding a new member, Stefanie asks for a street address, just to make sure the requestor is legit. 

When one provided address didn’t check out, she searched court records, which revealed the suspected address belonged to an individual with a lengthy rap sheet for burglary and other charges. Not good a good fit for the Gray’s Lake Neighborhood. Or any neighborhood!

“I’m not sure everyone else screens people before letting them in their groups,” Stefanie notes, “but I wanted to let you know this guy is bad news and maybe joining groups just to see neighborhood chitchat and crime videos so he knows who has cameras. Boot this t*** out of your groups!”

Lt. Larry Davey, who heads the Neighborhood Based Service Delivery unit, has asked neighborhood police officers to spread the word about carefully monitoring new Facebook group members. 


Des Moines police have made their first arrest on a protester for pointing a green laser into an officer’s eyes. Morgan Vanderhart, a Pleasant Hill resident who has appeared at local protests wearing Antifa-related insignia, was charged with assault with intent to inflict injury, a class D felony. A subsequent search warrant of Vanderhart’s van led to the recovery of an AR-15 rifle and a handgun. 

Earlier this month, Matthew Bruce, a Des Moines resident and Black Liberation Movement organizer, was photographed using a green laser. Iowa City Police have charged him with nine counts of assaulting an officer with intent to inflict injury.

Green lasers, which are 10 to 20 times more powerful than the laser pointers used by presenters, can cause permanent eye damage. According to The New York Times, green lasers put out 50 milliwatts of power, 10 times the FDA limit. And they’re cheap: You can find 100-milliwatt pointers online for less than $30. 

Learn more about this insidious weapon here. LAURIDSEN SKATEPARK: ‘THIS IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS”

Concrete edges are coped with 2-inch round pipe

Jamie Anderson, Wallingford, IA, left, & Rob Dennewitz, Chillicothe, OH, check the level of a grind rail before welding.
California Skateparks employees work on forms in a park section.

Bill Minadeo has spent more than 40 nights in Des Moines since March, checking on the Lauridsen Skatepark, under construction along the Des Moines River. Bill, vice president of Global Business Development for California Skateparks, oozes enthusiasm about our park, northeast of Wells Fargo Arena near 2nd Avenue, which is scheduled to welcome its first skateboarders by early November. Expect a formal dedication of the park, part of Polk County Conservation Board system, in the spring.

“This is as good as it gets,” Bill, who has supervised the building of skateparks across the globe, notes while enjoying craft beers at the Iowa Taproom, his Des Moines go-to evening destination. “You have a shining star here.” 

Skatepark architect Zach Wormhoudt believes the park soars because of the downtown site. “The same skate terrain located on the outskirts of town, in an empty field behind the corporate yard, would not be the same caliber park,” he says. “Fortunately, the people funding the project shared the belief in the project’s potential.”

Here are a few of Bill’s reasons this new downtown attraction is so inviting:

  • Its location: The park is situated with pedestrian access and near an activated downtown, with hotels, restaurants, and shopping. “Families will love this,” Bill predicts. “Look for an uptick in tourism.” 

  • Its many attractions: 88,000 square feet; a beginner’s bowl; pro-competition street and park courses; and a snake run. Lots of stairs and ledges to grind on, and a micro-mini ramp. “I love the backyard bowl,” Bill says. “It’s an authentic re-creation of a swimming pool where California skateboarders learned to skate.”

  • Its length: At 900-plus feet (about 2.5 city blocks), from Bobber Park at the west end of the Iowa Women Achievement Bridge to the north end near I-235, “There’s nothing like this anywhere,” Bill asserts.

  • Its sheer makeup: 3,500 cubic yards of concrete (most skateparks have 400 to 500 cubic yards). “To put this into perspective, Bill says, “there’s enough concrete to pave about 10 residential streets.”

  • Skatable public art: “WOW” is 88 feet long, 12 feet high, and 4 feet wide. “It’ll be a huge attraction.”

  • It’s well-lighted, by Musco Sports Lighting of Oskaloosa: “I bet in half the parks, lights never get added,” Bill says. “You not only have terrific lighting design, but the installed lights have already been a huge help for our crews. In this summer’s heat, our guys started work at 4 a.m.—in the cool of the day—under the lights.”

  • Its vast viewing area: “I can’t think of another park that has a viewing area from above the park that is this large,” Bill says. “Families will love this to watch kids perform. Most parks are flat—no one can see into the bowls except the skateboarders. This is impressive.”

Bill speculates that Des Moines will have the largest park in the USA for several years to come. “For another community to raise $6.3 million [in donations and grants] for a park this size, I don’t see that happening soon,” he says.

A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy (AMOS) first presented the idea for a Des Moines skatepark in 2004. Kevin Jones (Subset Skateshop owner) plus three original AMOS members—Jan Hill, Jann Freed, and a recently elected city council member—have served on the committee since Day One. VOTE, DANG IT!

You are voting in this year’s general election, right?

As a reminder, you have three options this year:

Absentee ballot. By now, you no doubt should have received one or more Absentee Ballot Request (ABR). Don’t forget to complete—just one!—and sign the ABR; should be postmarked by Oct. 28. The Polk County Auditor’s Office will begin sending out ballots on Monday, Oct. 5.

Ballot will be accepted if postmarked no later than November 2 or hand-delivered on Election Day until 9 p.m.

To date, approximately 47% of registered Democrats and 26% of registered Republicans have requested an ABR.

Early vote. Also on Oct. 5, you can begin voting in person at the Polk County Auditor’s Office at 120 Second Avenue (just south of Court Avenue). Office is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. At this time, there are no remote locations planned in Polk County.

Election Day. Tuesday, Nov. 3 is this year’s Election Day. Depending on the number of poll workers and other factors, some polling locations may be condensed. You can find this year’s polling location at

Or call the Election Office at 515-286-3247.

How can I sign up to volunteer at a polling site? Contact This is a paid position. Workers will be required to wear masks.

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