Tucked next to one of Iowa’s lakes near Allerton and Corydon in Wayne County, a 96-acre state park holds natural and historic treasures.
Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Bobwhite State Park.
Named for the northern bobwhite quail, the park features a dam holding back the South Fork of the Chariton River. The steeply sloping valley representative of the Southern Iowa Drift Plain, now hosts a finger lake held back by a long dike and dam structure.
The history of Bobwhite state park speaks to the transportation history of early Iowa. During late April 1846, the site hosted an estimated 500 covered wagons filled with Latter Day Saints making their way toward Utah on the Mormon Trail. While at the site the Saints witnessed a large prairie fire.
As railroads raced across Iowa, the Rock Island line decided to construct what the locals called the Allerton Reservoir at the site to provide water for steam engines starting in 1912. When the railroad no longer needed the site as diesel pullers came onto Iowa’s tracks, the state sought to acquire the lake and surrounding lands from the Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific Railway Company, as well as the Saint Paul and Kansas City Short Line in 1945. The 351 acre purchase took two years to negotiate, and the sale ultimately followed in 1947 to allow the state to meet the goals of the Iowa Twenty-Five Year Conservation Plan aimed at increasing access to lake parks for all Iowans.
After the initial acquisition, the Iowa Conservation Commission worked to improve the park over the late 1940s and early 1950s. Constructing a swimming beach and picnic areas, the state also worked to improve the spillway and dam. Habitat efforts saw workers plant walnut trees, and initial trail work helped to provide improved recreational opportunities.
For over a decade, the park still stood under the name Allerton Reservoir until a 1962 contest hosted by the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce offered locals a chance to name the state park. Although Mormon Trail, Twin Springs, and Lake Pend Oreille all gained consideration, the winning entry of Bobwhite State Park enshrined the site as the only Iowa state park named after a specific species of wildlife. Pearl W. McMurray of Corydon submitted the winning name to honor the rare species representing Iowa’s only quail species.
During the 1960s, the state partnered with the Wayne County Conservation Board and the American Red Cross to provide supervised swimming at the park. Fishing also proved popular as eager Iowa anglers tested the waters to realize the vision of improved access to recreational opportunities in the area. And in 1975, the Seymour Herald reported the park would reopen following a long closure due to road construction. The state also constructed a new ranger residence at the park in 1975. However, in 1988 the state made the decision to remove funding for the ranger position, while also moving to scale back maintenance to cut costs.
After decades in the state system, a transfer of management responsibilities to local control handed over the park’s maintenance to the Wayne County Conservation Board in 2002. A period of renewal followed, with major improvements to the camping facilities, a new five-mile trail running through fifteen acres of restored prairies, and improvements aimed at making the park more accessible to all. In 2005, the site hosted the Iowa Prairie Rescue to help pair volunteer assistance with habitat restoration and management.
Today, Bobwhite Park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in southern Iowa. With boat ramp options and a variety of fishing jetties, Bobwhite continues to welcome anglers hoping to test the waters. A variety of hiking trails and picnic shelters provide great opportunities to soak in the scenery. A campground with a modern shower house gives visitors the option to spend the night on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Bob White 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, Bobwhite 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 Bobwhite State Park.
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I hope I’ll see you out there!