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Brown's Lake-Bigelow Park, Notes on Iowa State Parks Series, Episode 62

Updated: Aug 13, 2023

Located South of Sioux City near Salix in Woodbury County, a 36-acre former state park holds natural and historic treasures.

Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore what used to be Brown’s Lake – Bigelow State Park.

The lake within the park traces its name and origin back to one of Woodbury’s earliest American settlers, John W. Brown. During the 1850s and 1860s, a small community near today’s park existed as Brown’s Settlement. While the small settlement grew, the locals named the small lake near the Missouri River Brown’s Lake. An oxbow lake created by the channel of the meandering Missouri moved further west during the area prior to American settlement, the spot proved popular with locals looking to enjoy the outdoors.

While oxbow lakes commonly run the risk of drying out over time, Brown’s Lake stood the test of time. To aid in the lake’s sustainability, the Iowa Conservation Commission started working on lake bank improvements during the late 1930s. While riprap helped to limit erosion, the ICC also secured funds to purchase wildlife habitat adjacent to the lake. Building on the momentum, the state bought an additional 36 acres along the lake’s south shore in 1946 for the creation of a state park. To honor the initial American settler of the newly purchased parklands the state named the park Bigelow State Park.

While other ICC projects around the state took precedence during an era of extensive dam building and artificial lake creation, Bigelow State Park struggled to develop. Initial picnic areas and primitive camping paired with lake access, but the much of the potential of the park remained unrealized. However, during the early 1960s, the Woodbury County chapter of the Izaak Walton League stepped up to advocate for improved amenities at the site. The club located its clubhouse along the lake’s south shore. While other counties throughout Iowa sought to regain control of several state parks, the maturation of the decades old Woodbury County Conservation Association into the Woodbury County Conservation Board during the 1960s, the county sought a maintenance agreement to help improve the park.

Granted by the Iowa Conservation Commission in 1970, the agreement allowed a new era of for Brown’s Lake – Bigelow to blossom in Woodbury County. New roads, construction of a bathhouse and concessions building, modernization of camping facilities, creation of a supervised swimming beach, and the building of a new boat ramp all contributed to the enjoyment of the park by Siouxland residents. Noted as one of the best places to catch bass in western Iowa during the 1980s, the park enticed anglers to test the waters often. Volunteers worked on plantings throughout the campground during the 1980s to create a uniquely beautiful spot to camp.

While the state continues to own the 36-acre park, as well as the 580-lake, and the Brown’s Lake Wildlife Management Area, Woodbury County Conservation deserves a great deal of credit for the park’s success over the past fifty years.

Today, Brown’s Lake – Bigelow Park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in northwestern Iowa. The park offers 29 modern campsites for visitors hoping to spend the night. A handicap accessible fishing pier pairs with shoreline, jetty, and boatramp options for Iowa anglers to test the waters. The beach area offers unsupervised swimming, concessions, and rentals of kayaks, paddleboats, and paddle boards. Trails and managed habits offer quality options for hikers, bikers, and wildlife viewing enthusiasts.

Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Brown’s Lake – Bigelow 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, Brown’s Lake - Bigelow Park shines as a must visit for all people hoping to see Iowa Slowly.

Thanks for coming along with notes on Iowa to explore what used to be Brown’s Lake – Bigelow 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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