top of page

Cold Springs - Notes on Iowa State Park Series, Episode 92

Located between Lewis and Griswold in Cass County, a 104-acre state park holds natural and historic treasures.


Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Cold Springs State Park.


The history of Cold Springs traces back well before the arrival of American settlers in the western part of the state. A popular site with Iowa’s Indigenous peoples, archeological and oral history evidence speaks to a deeper history of the park site. Featuring a deep spring-fed creek flowing from an overlooking bluff near the Nishnabotna River, the site often served as watering site for wildlife and human inhabitants of the area. When Jehu and Jane Woodward arrived in 1856 as the area’s first American settlers, the site had already served as a reststop for the Latter-day Saints on their journey west along the Mormon Trail. During the 1890s, W.C. Woodward dug a lake on a wooded part of his farm and piped water from the nearby creek to fill the 16-acre artificial body of water. Building the site into a summer resort featuring a swimming beach complete with diving boards and a waterslide, the site soon grew to popularity as a hot spot for Iowans hoping to cool off in the heat of summer. Soon a baseball field, a skating rink, concession stand, and the construction of steamboat helped to round out amenities at the popular site. The Rock Island even ran a special train in 1899 to help visitors get to the popular park. Many people came and camped on the hill overlooking the lake.


A public works project to rechannalize the Nishnabotna caused the lake to nearly empty during the 1920s, and local citizens feared they might lose their favorite watering hole. However, efforts concerned people from neighboring communities came together during the Great Depression years of the 1930s to raise five thousand dollars for purchase of the site. Paired with the Iowa Conservation Commission’s 25-year plan focused primarily on constructing artificial lakes in southern Iowa, the effort eventually led to the formation of a state park. With the lands in hand following a purchase of a sixty-acre tract from the Woodward family, the park formally came under state control during 1936. To avoid confusion with Hancock County’s Crystal Lake, the park officially renamed to Cold Springs State Park by the time of the formal dedication ceremony held on June 14, 1936.


The state initially focused on other projects, and the Cold Springs site continued to dry out until a major improvement and reconstruction project kicked off to return to the lake to its former glory. Reopened on June  1951 after two years of work, the park again rose to a place of prominence with the local population.  Still largely an afterthought in the Iowa State Parks system, momentum came together during 1961 for the newly formed Cass County Conservation Board to take over control of the site in a long-term maintenance agreement. With the transition to county control, the park saw a new era of improvement. Construction of new amenities including an enclosed picnic shelter and a modernization of the campground. Installation of playground equipment, creation of trails, and beach work all contributed to the improvements overseen by Cass County at the site. Continued coordination with state officials, in the form of the Iowa Conservation Commission and later the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, as well as the US Fish and Wildlife Service, allowed for the continued maintenance of the park, careful attention to the aquatic life at the lake, and other improvements. The fishery at the park site provided fish not only for the park, but also for area ponds, as the site continued to gain a reputation across Iowa as a great place to net a big catch over the late-20th century. During the early 2000s, the lake also served as a test site for DNR projects focused on replatings of native vegetation in aquatic habitats, and the impact of plantings on aquatic life.


Today, Cold Springs State Park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in southwestern Iowa.  A modern campground welcomes visitors hoping to spend the night. The regional home for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Station and a field office of the US Department of the Fish and Wildlife Service demonstrates the cooperative governance which has allowed the site to thrive over recent decades. The beach still provides Iowans with a great place to cool off from the summer heat, and trails provide options for those hoping to observe wildlife or escape into nature. Iowa’s anglers enjoy testing the waters for a variety of fish species with access provided by a boat ramp and dock, as well as shoreline fishing opportunities.


Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Cold Springs 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, Cold Springs 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 Cold Springs 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!


bottom of page