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Charles City Riverfront Park

This is a good example of:

Redeveloping a flood prone riverfront to a local amenity


The Cedar River runs through the heart of Charles City, but had few easy access points and was prone to flooding, damage and a hazards posed by a low-flow dam.   In 2006, the city’s parks department began to look at options for the river, though that process was interrupted two years later by record breaking floods.  The city restarted the planning process, combining land acquired through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) floodplain buyout program and grants to restore the river and access points. 

The plans added several amenities:

  • In-stream features to support local fish species and provided safer access for fishing;
  • New paths connecting the park to downtown, existing trails, other downtown amenities, and in-town affordable housing;
  • Fountains, sculptures, amphitheater, and play area;
  • Stormwater management installations to slow water and filter pollutants;
  • Iowa’s first ever white water rafting and stand-up paddleboard course.

The Charles City Riverside Park won a 2013 Award for Smart Growth Achievement from the US Environmental Protection Agency. Iowa Rivers named Charles City its 2012 “River Town of the Year.”

Takeaways for Other Communities

  • The city stuck to its planning effort to restore the river even after an historic flood event;
  • Improvements were incremental over time and constructed with the help of a variety of community groups;
  • FEMA’s buyout program provided recreational land while reducing the risk of repetitive damage to homes and businesses.
  • The park attracts paddlers from all over the country.  The river is now part of the city’s economic development platform.


URL link to Main Resource:

Project Location :

Charles City, Iowa, US

Development Context:





AHTS Architects, Charles City Eagle Scouts, Charles City Girl Scouts, Charles City Parks and Recreation Board,, Circle K Communications, Floyd County, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Great Places Program, Iowa State University Department of Landscape Architecture, Nelson Engineering, MidAmerican Energy, Recreation Engineering and Planning

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