Public Art is Realizing Potential, Connecting Communities and Building Vitality

The community of Waukee is bringing public art and infrastructure together to realize the full potential of the tri-county Raccoon River Valley Trail and its exceptional 72-mile trail loop. The newly dedicated “Waukee Railroad Pergola: In the Shadow of the Rails” is a dynamic integration of public-art and infrastructure based on the history of the railroad in the development of the City of Waukee. Located at the Waukee trailhead of the Raccoon River Valley Trail in Dallas County, the installation creates a unique “experience” for visitors and a new destination for bicyclists and pedestrians alike. Already designated as an “Iowa Great Place” by officials from the State of Iowa and the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, it is off to a great start!


The integrated artwork, “Waukee Railroad Pergola: in the Shadow of the Rails” is set to dramatically increase use of Waukee’s trailhead facilities and the loop – increasing tourism dollars, building communities, and promoting public health throughout three counties and multiple communities.  The neighboring High Trestle Trail and its artful bridge draws approximately 83,000 active visitors from May to September. These new users serve as economic engines for existing and new businesses along the trail, and we anticipate similar success for the communities of Dallas, Guthrie and Green counties.

The pergola is a dramatic sculptural icon and regional landmark, a colorful and whimsical connection between the past, present and future of the community. A trellis of railroad rails casts shadows that weave along the trail. A series of handmade ceramic-clad columns, frame over 350 feet along the trail. Accompanying ornamental bollards wrap the trailhead to reinforce the triangle, symbolic of the original town center of Waukee. State-of-the art LED illumination gives dimension to the structure and provides a colorful light show, thoughtful of the site as it changes from day to night. The practical aspects of this installation as a bicycle depot provides the unequivocal starting and collection point for the longest paved trail loop in the country.

The design immerses visitors in the story of the Raccoon River Valley Trail and its origins, providing memorable experiences in a way no traditional museum or historic kiosk could ever achieve.


Waukee was home to the Shuler Coal Mine. The railroad served as the critical shipping and distribution system to communities all along the line and throughout Iowa. Today, in much the same way, the Raccoon River Valley Trail connects the same communities – all directly benefiting from an iconic attractor as the Grand Central Station for the RRVT line. The Waukee trailhead is at the center of the longest paved loop trail in the country, over 72 miles. The pergola installation introduces a meaningful contemporary visual theme that can be scaled appropriately to welcome riders at the entrances to other communities along the trail.

The Waukee Railroad Pergola is a flexible and multipurpose placemaking attraction. The installation increases the use of the trailhead in both day and evening, creating a place to meet for social, recreational, and health events. People are drawn to this special place to interpret the history of Waukee, western expansion of the railroad, and the natural prairie ecology along the trail. The integrated public art installation is a striking new gateway to Waukee along HWY 6/Hickman Road as one heads east into the City.


There is both an economic benefit and a health benefit associated with this new attraction. Research from across the country routinely reinforces powerful messages of the positive impact of trails on public health. The Iowa Department of Public Health has estimated roughly $1 billion dollars in annual cost to the public due to sedentary lifestyles.  Additional data show 30% fewer days in the hospital for those who exercise regularly, and other statistics speak to the importance of that exercise occurring outdoors. Thus an outdoor hub – particularly one interpreting history, like the Waukee Railroad Pergola – can promote trail use well beyond the “usual suspects.”


  • Funded by private, corporate and public donations and grants, in partnership with the City of Waukee and the Waukee Betterment Foundation
  • This was an incredible collaboration, through RDG and the Art Studio with over 37 people applying their multi-disciplinary talents and touching the project in some way.
  • Total tiles installed: 5,816
  • Amount of clay used: 29 tons
  • Time to produce: 11 months
  • Total personnel involved in fabricating tiles: 12
  • Amount of glaze/color used: 113 gallons
    • Pergola – 32) 12’ tall ceramic tile clad concrete columns with overhead steel beams and stylized rails – forming a 350’ long pergola over the trail – with LED night lighting.
    • Shade & Solar Power Structure – 8) 12’ tall ceramic tile clad concrete columns, with 9 solar panels mounted on an overhead steel structure – providing powers to the site
Related Posts
Creating a Living Laboratory on Your Campus
The Impact Placemaking can have on a College Campus
Creative Placemaking: Storytelling About People and Culture
Into the (Steel) Woods We Go