Red Oak Renaissance

Turning Red Oak Creek into a Downtown Asset

Red Oak Creek flows just one block from the core of downtown, but, quite simply, it’s a mess. It presents an opportunity for creating an east/west link through the community for walkers and bicyclists, and in the downtown it offers the opportunity for another great public space. Red Oak Creek offers a chance to reclaim a bit of nature that has been lost – even disrespected – in Red Oak, and to reclaim it in ways that bolster downtown’s business climate and creates a place for families and children.
Red Oak Creek

“Red  Oak  Creek  flows  just  one  block  from  the  core  of  downtown,  but,  quite  simply,  it’s  a  mess.    It  presents  an  opportunity  for  creating  an  east/west  link  through  the  community  for  walkers  and  bicyclists,  and  in  the  downtown  it  offers  the  opportunity for another great public space.  Red Oak Creek offers a chance to  reclaim  a  bit  of  nature  that  has  been  lost  –  even  disrespected  –  in  Red  Oak, and to reclaim it in ways that bolster downtown’s business climate and creates a place for families and children.”

The Red Oak Strategy Plan of 2002
Revitalization of Red Oak Creek

The development of a Red Oak Creek corridor should not happen in a piecemeal or haphazard way. There is a real opportunity here, and the formulation of a common vision for the creek and the ways in which it intersects with various parts of the community should be a priority.

The idea of revitalizing Red Oak Creek as a downtown asset was not my own. In fact, it’s from the playbook of the Red Oak Strategy Plan of 2002. I was thrilled when I read through this document – taking in all of these new visions of restoration and transformation of our community – it was energizing. One of the ideas stood out from the rest: the revitalization of Red Oak Creek as a downtown asset. This was an idea that I had never heard discussed before.

Paying Tribute to Red Oak’s Namesake

Red Oak’s name originated by it’s abundant and beautiful Red Oak trees which lined and protected the banks of the flowing creek bed through these fertile grounds of Southwest Iowa.

Let’s honor the history of Red Oak and pay more respect to the area’s namesake. The area of the Red Oak Creek from Dutton Park to the 4th Street bridge has so much potential. With some cooperation, hard work, and financial backing, this project would restore the overlooked and underutilized asset that the Red Oak Creek currently is.

Here’s a photo I took of the Red Oak Creek while walking my dog during the winter of 2019. It was at that moment I knew I wanted help revitalize this hidden beauty that’s been tucked away for far too long.

Red Oak Creek
Looking south from 4th Street bridge.

So, I looked into how I could help turn the creek into an asset just like the Red Oak Strategy Plan of 2002 had envisioned over 17 years ago. This is what I’ve come up with:

The Southwest Expansion of Dutton Park: 210 N 5th Street

Beacon view of 210 N 5th Street, Red Oak Creek, and Dutton Park
Beacon view of 210 N 5th Street, Red Oak Creek, and Dutton Park

Frankly, the property of 210 N 5th Street has become dilapidated. During the winter I even noticed tracks through the snow around the house; up to its windows and doors; what I presumed was someone looking for a place to potentially squat.

I researched the property’s history utilizing Beacon. The following images show that this property was sold by ASH GROVE INVESTMENTS INC on January 15th of 2019 to OAK TREE PROPERTIES LLC for $1,500.00. And yet, with this property being recently transferred, its property taxes are not up-to-date, and in fact, they haven’t been paid since the fall of 2015.

For the full parcel report on this property, you can visit:

The 210 N 5th Street lot is a fourth of an acre and around a third of its area is the slopes and waters of the Red Oak Creek. The City of Red Oak owns the adjacent parcels to the North and East, which makes up a portion of Dutton Park. These parcels, along with 3 others owned by the city (depicted in the photo below) makes for the beginning of a public creek access project along with a new public park expansion. In turn, this project would better connect two neighborhoods divided by the Red Oak Creek.

City of Red Oak’s parcels along Red Oak Creek in this area.

The following image shows the total length of this public portion of Red Oak Creek being 553.19 feet.

553.19 feet is the total length of this public portion of Red Oak Creek.

The mental image I’m building here is that the 210 N 5th Street property is prime real estate for the beginning efforts to revitalize the Red Oak Creek. Here’s more of what I’m thinking can be done:

  1. Acquire the 210 N 5th Street property.
  2. Demo the house and clean-up the property.
  3. Enhance & repair the existing pedestrian bridge and its access points.
  4. Establish a new bridge that connects the 210 N 5th Street property with Dutton Park.
  5. Lay a new sidewalk beginning from the eastern portion of Grimes Street, run it through Dutton Park, and then connect and cross the sidewalk with the new bridge that leads onto the 210 N 5th Street property.
  6. Clean and enhance this area of the Red Oak Creek by creating an easily accessible access point.
  7. Place benches, signage, and way-finding markers to guide and educate users.
  8. Redesign this area with the idea of incorporating the existing pedestrian bridge with the expansion efforts of the Red Oak Trails’ on-street bike route.

Let’s look at how this area could be complimented by the Red Oak Trails’ on-street bike route:

The Expansion of the Red Oak Trails’ On-Street Bike Route

The Friends of the Red Oak Trails are looking for possible ways to expand the on-street bike route that runs a small portion of the city. The existing route utilizes much of 3rd and 4th street from Commerce Drive down to looping around Historic Fountain Square Park and back. An idea that’s being discussed is connecting the new Eastern Avenue trailhead with the existing on-street bike route by creating full bike loop around the community. What if the bike route utilized the pedestrian bridge just south of 5th and Washington Avenue? Honestly, there’s a good chance you either forgot this was here or never knew of it’s existence before because this area is hidden away by traffic barrier signage near and far.

Looking south from 5th and Washington Avenue.
The view passing by on 5th and Washington Avenue looking south makes for this area to be easily overlooked.

There are a few reasons why it’s a good idea to incorporate the pedestrian bridge with the expanded bike route:

  • Extending the bike route through downtown adds to the experience of the ride. This creates more exploration and destination opportunities for this area.
  • Running the bike route across the pedestrian bridge of 5th and Washington Avenue adds to the revitalization efforts and creates new connection with this forgotten area along the outskirts of downtown.
  • Connecting the bike route with Nuckols Street allows for the route to continue on lower traffic lanes. Taking Nuckols Street east eventually couples the route with the Coolbaugh Street bridge at the intersection of Highland Avenue. The route continues east from the Coolbaugh bridge which then shortly becomes the Eastern Avenue bend north. The route continues north until it reaches the new Eastern Avenue trailhead, which from there the rider can connect with the rest of the bike route through the existing off-road trail system to finish the loop.

The synergy of expanding the Red Oak Trails’ on-street bike route across the existing pedestrian bridge at 5th and Washington Avenue, efforts to clean-up the 210 N 5th Street property, and to build an easily accessible access point to the Red Oak Creek makes for a strong effort to give residents and visitors a new experience in this area of Red Oak.

Vision yourself heading south on 5th Street and crossing the existing pedestrian bridge and then being welcomed by a resting space with an invitation to either visit the Red Oak Creek or to the other side of Dutton Park where families can play in the sun and picnic in the shade.

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