Located alongside West Okoboji Lake in Milford of Dickinson County’s Iowa Great Lakes, a 380-acre State Park holds natural and historic treasures.
Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Gull Point State Park.
West Okoboji Lake, a 14,000 year old glacial lake known as the ancestral home of the Ioway and parts of the Dakota people, stands as the second oldest glacial lake in Iowa. The 3,847 acre spring-fed lake reaches maximum depths of 150 feet. Drawn by the crystal clear waters, people have occupied the shores of West O from a time immemorial.
The earliest Americans to arrive on the shores of Iowa’s Great Lakes spread out, with several cabin sites sprinkled along West Okoboji Lake. The Dakota also lived in the area during the mid-1800s as settlers arrived, sparking conflict. The southernmost bands of the people commonly called the Sioux, but known as the Wahpekute Dakota, find special meaning with the lakes as the place where the tribe first started practicing corn based agriculture. Conflict arose as an American presence grew in the region, and at the close of the brutal winter of 1856-1857 tensions reached a boiling point when Inkpaduta’s band arrived in early March. After an initial outbreak of hostilities to the south of the lakes at Gillett’s Grove, Inkpaduta’s band attacked virtually every settlement throughout the region. Several of the attacked cabin sites rest on West Okoboji Lake in other State Parks and public lands and will be covered in other parts of the Notes on Iowa State Park Series.
After initial American settlement and the violence of 1857, the lakes region quickly gained traction as a popular place to live or vacation. As early as 1880 local newspapers reported of the beauty of the Gull Point Location. On August 20, 1886, the Spirit Lake Beacon reported: “Gull point across the lake is a very pretty point. It derives its name from a large number of gulls that collect there, two or three hundred having been seen at one time.” By the turn of the century the area proved popular, and as the Iowa Conservation Commission formed and started to explore sites throughout officials chose five in the Iowa Great Lakes Area.
In the early 1930s, the state initially purchased two tracts of land for around $5,000, and paired the purchase with lands donated to the state by the West Okoboji Golf and County Club. By late June 1934 the park proved ready for development as nearly 30,000 Civilian Conservation Corps workers arrived in the Iowa Great Lakes Region.
By July work began on the iconic stone and timber shelter house at the park, and in August the Spirit Lake Beacon reported the completion of a road on the western boundary of the park. Further projects included a boat house and public dock, as well as lake bank improvement work. The efforts of the CCC resulted in a great deal of development, and by September of 1935 the Milford Mail reported the camp starting to wind down. The Iowa Conservation Commission moved Paul Willie, formerly the custodian of Ambrose Call State Park in Algona, to oversee the facilities at Gull Point as the CCC departed.
State officials dedicated the park on March 8, 1935, and funding provided by the Citizens of Okoboji Lake District helped to underwrite the efforts of the CCC to maximize development during the group’s time in the area. When the park opened, a portion existed as a golf course, but during the post-World War II era the course was abandoned. The portion of the golf course outside of the park served as a Boy Scout Camp until it joined the parklands in 1974 as an expansion. Aside from maintenance, expansion of camping opportunities during the 1960s, the park continues to represent one of the most stunning examples of Civilian Conservation Corps development of Iowa’s public lands.
Today, Gull Point State Park offers a variety of short trails, picnic shelters, a beach, and a modern campground. The boat ramps prove popular with anglers eager to test the waters of West O, and a variety of other recreational opportunities await visitors to the park.
Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Gull Point 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, Gull Point 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 Gull Point State Park.
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I hope I’ll see you out there!