Wapsipinicon Water Trail

Welcome to the project page for the Wapsipincon Water Trail opportunity.  In partnership with the Iowa DNR, Linn County Conservation is exploring the opportunities, challenges, and feasibilities of designating a water trail on the Wapsipinicon River through Linn County.  This page serves to provide the public information regarding water trails, the Wapsipicon River, and other questions related to this project.  Additionally, this page provides a timeline and frequently asked questions, including answers. 

It is important to understand that no decisions have been made regarding the status of a water trail on the Wapsipinicon River and the process, regardless of any decisions, involves you.   We invite those interested in being involved in these discussions to sign up to receive email communications from Linn County Conservation.  

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We believe the Wapsipinicon River is important and worth protecting.  We continue to believe that the best way to encourage stewardship of our important river resources is to engage people in this resource.  Creating water trails is one way to connect people to our rivers for quality outdoor recreation experiences.  Ultimately, people need to care about the river in order to value and protect it. To learn more about water trails and the process for Linn County, please see below.


Learn about Water Trails
Wapsi Water Trail Timeline

Learn about Water Trails
Iowa’s state-designated system of water trails is emerging to meet a variety of needs including social and family experiences, sublime solitude, or an exciting adventure through swift waters. The Iowa DNR Water Trail program relates strongly to a national movement promoting waterway recreation while integrating regional priorities such as water quality and stream and watershed restoration. Increased public access to waterways leads to new energy for realizing the potential of our waters and a spirit of volunteerism to care for them.  You can learn more about the State of Iowa Water Trails Plan by clicking the links below: 
Introduction and Vision of Program
Water Trail Context and Plan Goals
Existing Iowa Water Trails
Strategy and Plan of Action for the Water Trails Community 

For additional information, visit the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Recreation/Water Trails website. 

Wapsi River Water Trail Timeline

General Timeline – Linn County Conservation understands the concerns shared at the public input session in July 2012.  We have conveyed them to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources as well.  The Department will try to address existing issues, however, it is important to note that while all of the behavior is frustrating, some of it is not illegal and therefore difficult to address. It is difficult to determine an exact timeline, as discussions with partner organizations may influence opportunities and/or challenges. 

August 2012 – Linn County Conservation determined (based off the feedback from the public input session) that there are items that need to be addressed on the Wapsipincon River before moving forward with a water trail.  A meeting will be scheduled with local law enforcement to discuss concerns that were brought up during the public input session. 

August 2012 – Based off feedback from the public input session, Linn County Conservation staff is providing educational garbage collection bags with all canoe shuttle trips from Pinicon Ridge Park Watercraft Concession. 

July 2012 – Iowa DNR, in partnership with Linn County Conservation, hosted a public input session for land owners to learn more about a water trail designation in Linn County. 

Does a “state designated water trail” means there will be special restrictions on motorboats or motorized vessels will not be allowed on the river?
No. Boating laws do not change as a result of a water trail designation. There are many water trails in Iowa and we are unaware of any that prohibit motorized boats.

Will Linn County get additional monies or compensations if the river receives state designation as a water trail?
There are no direct payments or other financial incentives for having a state designated water trail. There is a small grant program that can be used to improve access and signage. The bottom line is that any funds coming in through grants must be spent on improving the water trail, so there is no financial gain to either conservation employees or Linn County.

Does the State designation make a river section eligible for dredging or bank stabilization?
In general, no. The designation does not provide funds for these activities. Both deposition and bank erosion are symptoms of excessive runoff and erosion. Dredging rivers is extremely expensive and is likely to only be a short-term solution. With each flood, vast quantities of material move down the river which would require additional dredging, so dredging is not an option.

Is the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Linn County Conservation or the Army Corps of Engineers responsible for removing log jams or other debris from the river?
No. Log jams are considered natural phenomenon and are not routinely removed as they provide habitat for fish and other wildlife. Part of having a designated water trail is educating people about these situations together with the appropriate use of the river.

Does a state designated water trail mean the dams in Troy Mills and Central City will automatically be removed?
No. The water trail designation does not require dam removal. It does require planners to consider a safe way to portage around the dam if possible. Dam removal or modification is a separate issue that can be considered by the owners of the dam and interested persons as a separate issue.

Will the county or state condemn private land to make new accesses along the river?
No. The Conservation Board does not have the power of imminent domain and there are no plans to ask anyone to condemn access points or any other property as part of the water trail. It is possible that the planning process could identify locations where additional access points would be desirable. Any future accesses will be acquired from willing sellers as they are now.

Why is Linn County Conservation considering asking the state to designate the Wapsipinicon River in the county as a water trail?
Linn County Conservation believes that Linn County’s rivers and streams are an important resource. Providing people opportunities to interact with the resource is the best way to help them develop a caring attitude about its protection. Increased water trail usage by paddlers and other recreationists provide opportunities for people to become more aware of the importance of Iowa’s aquatic ecosystems.

How will some of the problems landowners are experiencing be addressed?
There isn’t a clear answer to all the problems or even any certainty that they can be addressed. Some will require a partnership approach between law enforcement and landowners experiencing problems. Some can likely not be addressed without a change in laws. River clean-up efforts often increase on water trails – usually by stakeholder groups and other volunteers involved with the water trails. Organized cleanups offer potential to help address litter problems.

How will the situation on the river change if the Wapsipinicon River in Linn County is designated as a state water trail?
Legally, nothing changes. If there is an activity that is legal to do today, it will be legal following the designation. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has indicated that they place added emphasis on enforcement in river sections designated as water trails. It is possible additional enforcement resources will be available following water trail designation. Areas of the state that have designated water trails and stakeholder groups formed have actually seen a decrease in the amount of problems associated with littering, trespassing, etc.

I have heard that the Wapsipinicon River is a meandered stream downstream from the old Paris Bridge. What does that mean?
The Wapsipinicon River through Linn County is classified as both meandered and non-meandered. The meandered section of the Wapsipinicon River starts at the mouth of the Mississippi River all of the way to the west line of Section 19, T86N, R6W, Linn County. (98 miles) The meandered and non-meandered stream designation was made years ago during settlement. There is a misconception that the term “meandered” references how straight or crooked the river is at a given location. While bends in the river are often referred to as “meanders”, in this case the “meandered” is a legal designation unrelated to the course the river travels. See definitions below.

Meandered Stream – the state of Iowa owns the beds of its navigable streams up to the normal high water mark (the point at which vegetation normally starts growing.) and holds them in trust for its citizens and are under the jurisdiction of the Iowa DNR. (This would include sand and gravel bars during low water periods).

Non-meandered stream – the land below the normal high water mark and the land underneath the river is privately owned.

“Navigable Waters” means all lakes, rivers and streams, which can support a vessel capable of carrying one or more persons during a total of six months period in one out of every ten years.

Iowa Attorney General Opinion related to use of Iowa Rivers and Streams
(Michael H. Smith, Assistant Attorney General of Iowa)
“It is our opinion that members of the public may float on any stream that is navigable as defined in the Iowa Code section 462A.2(16) and engage in activities incident to navigation, including fishing, swimming, and wading. To the extent that waterfowl hunting is customary in Iowa stream beds, some particular types of waterfowl hunting might be considered as incidental to public recreational navigation. The owner of a navigable stream bed has the right to erect a fence across the stream as necessary to confine livestock on the owner’s land in a manner that affords boaters safe passage.”

I am concerned about people gathering at bridges and jumping into the river. There have been several people injured this year when they jumped off of bridges in Linn County? Why is this activity allowed?
Loitering and jumping off bridges in Linn County is legal at this time. Enforcement at bridges is limited to obstruction of traffic and other illegal behavior. A change in the law will be required to allow enforcement.

Why doesn’t everyone on the river required to wear or at least have a life jacket in their possession?
Under state law anyone age 13 and under are required to wear a US Coast Guard approved life jacket. Persons over age 13 in a registered vessel are required to have a life preserver for each person on the vessel. Kayaks and canoes less than 13 feet in length or inflatable vessels less than 7 feet in length do not need to be registered and therefore are exempt from regulations that apply to registered vessels.

Is it legal to drive an ATV or four wheel drive vehicle in the river during periods of low water?
No. Motorized vehicles, licensed or not, are prohibited in streambeds.

Are people allowed to have glass bottles on rivers?
Yes. Glass containers are legal on Iowa’s interior rivers.