Updated: Nov 27, 2022
Somewhere between West Des Moines, Winterset, and Van Meter in Madison County, a 700+ acre state recreation area holds natural and historic treasures.
Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Badger Creek State Recreation Area.
During the early 1950s, local farm Ralph Harvey, planner for the Soil and Conservation office in Winterset, organized efforts to form the county’s third official watershed around Badger Creek. Soon after public meetings and studies followed for Badger Creek in order to qualify for federal approval of a soil conservation and flood prevention project in the Watershed. As the project developed, the watershed committee expanded out the initial watershed of 18,000 acres to 38,000 acres.
In 1959 the Winterset Madisonian reported: “authorization from Washington means the state watershed planning party will now be able to go ahead…” with a project involving nearly 40,000 acres of northeastern Madison, Dallas, Warren, and Jefferson Counties. Authorized under the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act, the Secretary of Agriculture signed off on the project of the US Soil Conservation Service. The following year Congressional approval and funding paired with local efforts to found the ‘Badger Creek Club’ to move the project closer to a reality.
During the early 1960s extensive agricultural related work took place throughout the watershed, and by 1963 officials started seriously considering the possibility of creating a 275 acre lake in northeastern Madison County. Although the original plan featured an 80 acre lake, Iowa Conservation Commission officials entered the conversation to discuss helping finance the project in order to provide for recreational opportunities close to Iowa’s capital city.
While other major projects facilitating outdoor recreation opportunities for Iowans took precedence over the course of the 1960s and 1970s including the development of the Saylorville and Big Creek projects, Badger Creek waited due to inflated land costs and other difficulties. However, construction finally got underway in October of 1979 according to the Winterset Madisonian. In 1980, a series of public meetings helped to develop plans for the park as water started to fill behind the earthen dam. Crews constructed seven initial fishing jetties, and Badger Creek State Recreation Area slowly started to come to life.
In 1985, a major boost came for development through Iowa Lottery funds providing $1 million for the construction of boat ramps, fishing jetties, and other minor amenities. However, significant development of other recreational opportunities in the area led officials to scale back plans in order to focus on establishing fish and wildlife habitat at the site. The Iowa Conservation Commission worked to stock and maintain fish populations, even going so far as to allow ‘promiscuous fishing,’ by Iowa State Code, a practice where limits and harvest regulations are lifted at a specific body of water to allow fish to be taken by “any means except by use of dynamite.” A lake draw down, fish kill, and restocking soon followed.
In 1990 Resource Enhancement and Protection funding helped encourage conservation practices in the agricultural draining above the lake, and other projects have worked to reestablish prairie plant populations at the site. In recent years, a four-acre patch of sunflowers has drawn annual crowds while also providing a draw for wildlife to the hunting friendly recreation area.
Today, Badger Creek State Recreation Area offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in Madison County. Easy access awaits anglers from boat ramps flanking the east and west sides of the 276-acre lake. Fishing jetties offer an alternative option for ground-bound fishermen hoping to hook bass, crappie, bluegill, or catfish. Small game and waterfowl hunters also find luck in the roughly 700 acres of public hunting land adjacent to the lake. Other nature lovers can observe a variety of birds and prairie plants while enjoying all the recreation area has to offer.
Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Badger Creek State Recreation Area. A truly stunning representation of Iowa’s natural beauty and a testament to the necessity of maintaining opportunities to get outdoors for all Iowans, Badger Creek State Recreation Area shines as a must visit for all people hoping to see Iowa Slowly.
Thanks for coming along with notes on Iowa to explore Badger Creek State Recreation Area.
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I hope I’ll see you out there!