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Banner Lakes at Summerset - Notes on Iowa State Park Series, Episode 43

Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Banner Lakes at Summerset State Park.

Iowa’s newest state park, Banner Lakes only officially entered the state’s park system in 2004. However, the history of the site offers a glimpse into Iowa’s economic development. As population climbed in the central portion of the state during the late-1800s, rich coal seems offered ready fuel for railroads and steamboats connecting Iowa to outside markets. Although Iowa’s first coal mines started further east, over a dozen different coal companies called Warren County home across the late 1800s and early 1900s. The largest strip mine in Iowa, the Banner-Evansville Strip Mine at Summerset, opened in 1932. Over the following ten years workers toiled to excavate the four-foot seem of Pennsylvanian coal from roughly 40 feet below the surface. By 1940 the company completed extraction and closed the mine.

Iowa’s rains slowly filled the open-face mining pits, and locals often referred to the location as Banner Pits. Scientists noted improving soil conditions at the site as the years passed. With no immediately practical purpose which might lead someone to purchase the site, the Iowa Conservation Commission took control in 1954. Designating the site a wildlife management and preserve area, the state allowed nature to reclaim the site forever altered by commercial coal extraction for decades.

Over the years, change slowly came to the park in both natural processes and human efforts. In 1962, the Carlisle Citizen reported improvements at the park including “picnic grounds, a shooting range, and improved parking.” During the 1970s the state leased fourteen acres of the state for cash.

As Des Moines continued to reach out toward Warren County, local sentiments paired with state efforts to improve recreational opportunities at Banner Lakes. With many practical development options, the state officially started working to transition the site into state park status. Paired with the 1,000-acre Banner Flats Wildlife Management Area, the park blossomed to offer Iowans incredible options for outdoor recreation at Iowa’s newest state park in 2004.

Today, Banner Lakes at Summerset State Park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in central Iowa. Fishing proves popular with anglers, and a variety of docks pair with no-wake boating to provide quality access for all. Channel catfish, largemouth bass, bluegill, and crappie now reside where coal workers once toiled. Specifically designed mountain biking trails weave through the altered landscape while providing three different marked levels of difficulty. Others hoping to enjoy a stroll through nature find access to over five miles of trails which connect to the wider-ranging Summerset Trail which occupies a former railbed stretching from Carlisle to Indianola. The Iowa DNR also operates the nearby Banner Shooting Range for individuals hoping to hone their marksmanship skills.

Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Banner Lakes at Summerset State Park. A truly stunning representation of Iowa’s natural beauty and a testament to the necessity of maintaining opportunities to get outdoors for all Iowans, Banner Lakes at Summerset State Park shines as a must visit for all people hoping to see Iowa Slowly.

Thanks for coming along with notes on Iowa to explore Banner Lakes at Summerset State Park.

Make sure to subscribe to the Notes on Iowa website, subscribe on YouTube, follow on social media, and tune in each Sunday to explore the history of Iowa’s state parks, preserves, and other public lands.

I hope I’ll see you out there!


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