In the Shadow
of the Rails

City of Waukee, Iowa
Waukee, IA
Completion date
December 2017

Located at the trailhead of the Raccoon River Valley Trail in Waukee, Iowa, the 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 and creates a unique experience for visitors and a destination for bicyclists and pedestrians.

This dramatic sculptural icon has become a regional landmark and serves as a colorful and whimsical connection between the past, present, and future of the community. Framed by a series of handmade ceramic-clad columns, more than 350 feet long, a trellis of railroad rails casts shadows that weave along the trail. 

The Waukee Railroad Pergola "In the Shadow of the Rails" in Waukee, Iowa. Photo by Kun Zhang.
Lighting Design

Lighting for this public art installation creates a dynamic appeal to bikers that attracts them to this section of the trail system in Central Iowa. 

Color-changing fixtures as well as static blue accent lights draw attention to the destination and help with wayfinding in the middle of a lot of urban sprawl. LED illumination gives dimension to the public art structure and provides a colorful “light show,” thoughtful of the site as it changes from day to night.

The color-changing lighting adds an important safety feature for night riders and gives the installation special interest and flair as night descends. Light fixtures are carefully integrated into art element structures that provide shelter from birds and weather yet integrate fully with the linear expressions of the piece.

Remote drivers were carefully integrated into the structure, while power and data wiring runs down through the columns to a central control room. The lighting interface utilizes a programmable system that can either be manually controlled or run on timed and scheduled events.

Public Art

Public art is about process. Through a combination of site-specific research, documentation, careful listening, and artistic insight, a meaningful story emerged.  

The Raccoon River Valley Trail Association, in conjunction with the City of Waukee, was profoundly committed to the “story,” the integration of the public artwork, and the implementation of the project. Over a three-year period, the project became a reality due in large part to the relationships between artists and the community and the grass-roots marketing and fundraising efforts of key individuals.


The primary goal for the integration of the public artwork centered on the design and creation of a major trailhead that would welcome the public to the City of Waukee and become a gathering area for the Raccoon River Valley Trail, the longest paved loop in the country. Another significant objective: “make it fun,” an active location to draw a new and larger audience to the trail communities. The project began with extensive artist facilitation and public input to inform the process and give direction to the conceptual development. 

The installation functions in many different ways, with benefits related to health and recreation, as well as a catalyst for regional economic development, reaching out to other communities connected by the trail. Accompanying ornamental bollards wrap the trailhead to reinforce the “triangle,” symbolic of the original town center. 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 pergola installation introduces a meaningful contemporary visual theme to achieve character and continuity. It has been scaled in other locations to welcome riders to the entrances of other communities along the trail.


The Waukee Railroad Pergola project represents a collaboration between many different people and organizations: artists, community leaders and activists, trail association members, state cultural and Department of Transportation officials, engineers, architects, landscape architects, lighting designers, educators, students, contractors and fabricators, the public in general, and many donors organized through public/private partnerships, working passionately to bring the project to life. 

The process began with “artistic fact-finding,” a series of cultural engagement meetings that gathered the interest, ideas, and involvement of the community. Options for distinct visual expressions were developed and vetted, building consensus along the way. The result is a memorable destination and experience that welcomes visitors from across the country. 

Merit Award in Design (Built)
ASLA Central States
National Hall of Fame
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
Merit Award in Design (Built)
ASLA Iowa Chapter