Located along the Skunk River between Mt. Pleasant and Burlington in Henry County, a 1,640-acre state park holds natural and historic treasures.
Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Geode State Park.
Although not officially dedicated into the Iowa State Parks system until June 20, 1951, the initial lands owned by Iowa at the site came under state control during the 1930s. The initial land purchase from Charlie Hall came about with $4,8000 in funds raised by residents of Henry and Des Moines counties. During the early 1940s, Development Chairman of the Park, E.N. Smith and his son Earl Smith suggested the name Geode. The geode, or a hollow rock with a quartz crystal lined interior, also started serving as the Iowa State Rock in 1967 thanks to the efforts of the Smiths. During 1940, Smith also helped facilitate the purchase of an additional 229-acres of lands for $6,5000, expanding the park’s footprint.
the future park site saw development with the help of Civilian Conservation Corps workers. Work allowed for the completion of entry roads, a stone picnic shelter, and habitat management on the steeply wooded tract near the South Skunk River. The CCC also started work on a park residence and maintenance building, however, the organization’s disbanding in 1942 saw construction temporarily stall.
When the Iowa Conservation Commission started considering ambitious artificial lake constructions project throughout southern Iowa during 1940, Geode stood out as an ideal site. The ICC started buying up lands and conducting feasibility studies while also completing the unfished construction projects left behind by the CCC, while local papers reported ‘dam construction assured’ as early as 1941. Although the project moved slowly, the Iowa General Assembly allotted funds for the broader artificial lakes project in 1947 and the ICC officially selected Geode as a site for dam construction. Plans came together to impound Cedar Creek, a tributary to the South Skunk River, and a dam quickly rose during 1949 and 1950.
As the waters filled in to form a 300-acre lake at initial full-pool, officials planned for improved amenities at the park. The implementation of a prison labor program in 1955 saw Geode selected as one of four state parks where inmates would work. The imprisoned laborers constructed a bath house reminiscent of the Civilian Conservation Corps style, modernized picnicking areas, and even helped construct an airstrip briefly located within the park. With many of the amenities completed, the park quickly proved a popular site for outdoor recreation in southeastern Iowa.
In 1981, significant siltation and water quality issues forced officials to drain and renovate the lake. Aimed at helping lessen erosion and siltation while improving fish populations, the project proved a success and Iowans quickly got back to enjoying pleasant outings at the gem of southeastern Iowa.
By 2018, water quality issues again forced another significant siltation and lake renovation project to temporarily close the park. While closed, workers also updated and modernized the campground and other facilities throughout the park. The 2018 draining also uncovered the “Agency Road,” the oldest publicly-funded road west of the Mississippi River.
Today, Geode State Park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in southeastern Iowa. Connected to neighboring communities and Van Buren County’s Lacey-Keosauqua State Park by the 46-mile long Southeast Iowa Bike Route, the park offers excellent opportunities for cyclists and hikers. An additional seven-miles of multiple-use trails wind through the park. The recently restored CCC era shelter pairs with four open shelters to offer a beautiful setting for gatherings. The large, modern campground offers a great option for those hoping to spend the night. The recently renovated 187-acre lake offers great opportunities for boaters and anglers hoping to test the waters.
Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Geode 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, Geode 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 Geode 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!