Polk County to purchase Sleepy Hollow Sports Park, tubing business3 min read
Polk County will purchase Sleepy Hollow Sports Park, county officials and the park’s longtime owners, Rick and Mary Flatt, announced in a news release this weekend.
The 76-acre facility opened in 1994 on Des Moines’ east side, at 4051 Dean Ave.
Sleepy Hollow is a central Iowa favorite for tubing and sledding in the winter and for Renaissance fairs, festivals, comedy shows and concerts in the summer. Each fall, Sleepy Hollow’s Renaissance Faire Park turns into a Halloween attraction and the surrounding forest becomes a haunted trail. Taylor Swift once even performed there early in her career.
The Flatts will continue to run all operations through the end of 2022. In 2023, Polk County Conservation will operate the winter sports facility. The Flatts will run camping operations and special events, including the Kosmic Kingdom music festival, the Renaissance Faires and the Scream Park. Polk County will run all operations beginning in 2024.
‘It’s not worth it’:Why the owners of Sleepy Hollow Sports Park decided to close for winter
With the announcement, the county pledged to raise millions of dollars to fund improvements at the park. A $3 million fundraising campaign will begin to improve the facilities, including:
- Develop a full-service campground with 60-camping spots and expand current electric facilities, including for Iowa State Fair campers, as well as develop tent camping amenities. Plans also include adding a new shower house, restroom building and registration booth.
- Make minor interior and exterior improvements to the existing Ski Lodge, including Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades.
- Adding new cross-country ski and snowshoe trails and, possibly, downhill ski trails.
- Improve access to the park’s existing pond and enhance fisheries for public fishing and other programs.
- Convert the pond to an ice skating rink during winter.
- Connect Sleepy Hollow with the Gay Lea Wilson Trail, providing safe routes to downtown Des Moines, Pleasant Hill and Altoona.
- Expanding existing hiking trails.
- Stage Central Iowa Water Trails kayak access.
- Restore banks on Fourmile Creek to prevent erosion and improve water quality.
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Polk County Supervisor Tom Hockensmith said in the news release that he supports the effort because generations of central Iowa families have enjoyed Sleepy Hollow.
“I am thrilled to bring this community tradition into Polk County’s portfolio of parks,” Hockensmith said in the release, pointing to the county’s “long history of managing trails, wetlands and conservation areas.”
Hockensmith said the project will help also the county accomplish some of its goals to clean up Fourmile Creek and other watersheds in the area.
More:Polk County has an aggressive plan to clean up its water. Could it work for the rest of Iowa?
Sleepy Hollow never opened for tubing last winter because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the first time in the park’s 27-year history not to open for a winter season. Earlier last year, Sleepy Hollow held a socially distanced East Side Night.
The Flatts said in a statement that they will serve as stewards as the park’s ownership makes its transition. With the county’s resources and vision, they said, they will be able to better protect the property.
“For the past few years, Mary and I have pondered who would tend to all these many and varied activities and help them continue to grow and evolve,” they wrote. “We believe we have found the best possible stewards for the future of Sleepy Hollow.”
Philip Joens covers breaking news for The Des Moines Register. He can be reached at 515-443-3347 at [email protected] or on Twitter @Philip_Joens.