Cedar Rapids Considers Allowing Swimming In Parts Of Cedar River

By Rick Smith, Reporter

Prairie Park Fishery on Saturday, May 30, 2011, in southeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/KCRG-TV9)

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By Richard Pratt

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Think summer and swimsuits, and thank Sven Leff for getting your mind off the cold.

Leff, the city’s still-new parks and recreation director, is proposing that the city set aside its prohibition against swimming in and next to the Cedar River within the city limits at three spots.

Lifting the prohibition will allow the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to establish rules if it decides to permit swimming in the backwaters at Mohawk Park across the river from Ellis Park and in the backwaters at Seminole Valley Park upriver from Mohawk Park.

In addition, the proposed ordinance change will let the department also look to permit swimming in the former industrial sandpit now owned and operated by the city as Prairie Park Fishery. The fishery is fed by the river.

Under the proposed ordinance change, swimming elsewhere in the river within the city will continue to be prohibited except when incidental to boating, water skiing, rafting or tubing on the river or when done as part of a special event approved by the city manager or his designee.

The city’s River Recreation Commission on Thursday will discuss the proposed changes to the city swim ordinance, which currently prohibits swimming in the Cedar River within the city limits. Subsequently, the City Council’s Public Safety Committee also will discuss and vote on the swimming proposal before it would make its way to the City Council for a vote.

In September 2013, the River Recreation Commission voted to allow swimming in the cove at Mohawk Park, but Leff and his staff then reviewed the issue, which is prompting it to head back to the commission with revised language to the proposed ordinance amendment.

"We looked at the river and the backwaters from end to end in the city, and so we see there may be reasons some day where we want to do recreational programming at Seminole, Mohawk and Prairie Park Fishery," Leff said on Wednesday. He said the proposed ordinance change will still prohibit swimming in Ellis Harbor, and he called swimming in Cedar Lake and Robbins Lake at Ellis Park "bad ideas."

"We’re not trying to rush forward ... and create an unsafe arrangement," Leff said. "We’re trying to specify that these are bodies of water that have recreational potential and we’d like to work with them further. ... We want to be smart and responsible about what types of water recreation we allow there, which possibly could include swimming."

Leff, who took over as the city’s parks and recreation director in April 2013, grew up in Minnesota and swam in the Mississippi River, and he joined the Cedar Rapids city staff almost three years ago after working in Reno, Nev., where it was common to swim in the Truckee River.

"When I got here, I wondered why we don’t allow swimming in the river … and why we were not doing more to enjoy the river," Leff said in September. "I’ve always been around water, and I’ve never been afraid to swim or boat in it. It doesn’t need to be scary."

He said in September that the cove at Mohawk Park would make a good start. He said the cove is out of the river current and is cleaner because some of the water comes into it after being filtered by sand.

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