Nearly Half of Iowans Surveyed Visit Iowa’s Rivers and Streams

Catherine Kling;
Joseph Herriges;
Sandy Clarke;

October 28, 2010

Results of a new statewide representative survey reveal the patterns and preferences of Iowa citizens in their use of the state’s rivers and streams, with nearly half of survey respondents reporting taking trips to one of the 73 listed river or stream segments during 2009.

The survey was conducted by researchers in the Department of Economics and Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University, with funding from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Almost 4,800 people responded to the survey mailing of 10,000, first sent in November 2009 and followed up with reminder mailings. The survey asked questions about visitation patterns, activities chosen by those who did visit, attitudes toward factors that affected respondents’ decisions to visit rivers, and demographic information.

Highlights of the survey results:

  • The average number of trips was about six per person.
  • The most visited rivers and streams included segments of the Mississippi, Des Moines and Cedar Rivers, as well as portions of the Missouri, Iowa, and Wapsipinicon.
  • Usage varied by demographic groups, with younger, more educated, and higher-income individuals having the heaviest usage. Men reported more visits than women.
  • The most popular activities reported were relaxation, fishing, trail-related activities, and wildlife viewing, with variation across rivers and demographic groups.
  • The single most important consideration in selecting a river to visit was proximity to the home, with water quality and habitat being the second most important factor.
  • The factors most cited as having a negative influence over respondents’ decisions to visit rivers and streams were related to water quality issues.

Yongjie Ji, a Ph.D. candidate, and economics professors Joseph Herriges and Catherine Kling conducted and tabulated the survey. The researchers commend the results to the funding agencies as a useful tool to guide citizens and policymakers in their decisions about conservation expenditures to improve the outdoor recreation experience of Iowans in the most cost-effective manner.

“Rivers are one of Iowa’s remarkable features, and this survey validates what we’ve seen—Iowans are out there, using their rivers and river corridors for a broad range of activities,” said Nate Hoogeveen, the DNR’s Water Trails Coordinator. “We hope the survey results can help us get more Iowans outdoors and invested in the quality of their rivers and streams.”

Copies of the report and survey are available at