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Iowa History Daily: April 12 - Birth of the Iowa State Park System

Iowa History Daily: On April 12, 1917, Iowa’s 37th General Assembly approved a bill establishing a state park system for Iowa. Iowa’s 72+ state parks, preserves, and other public lands offer unique insights into the natural history of the state.

Coming only a year after the creation of the United States National Parks system in 1916, the Iowa legislature sought to enhance outdoor opportunities for Iowans. Where the state only held 10 total acres of publicly accessible woods, lakes, and rivers in 1917, the creation of the Iowa Conservation Commission and the park system helped to advance the creation of public lands in Iowa. Louis Pammel, Iowa State botanist, helped to lead the charge through leadership of the Iowa Conservation Commission during the agency’s early years. Pammel spent years traveling the state to work with local communities on identifying, setting aside, preserving and developing parks in the state.

The state started to acquire lands and Backbone State Park officially became Iowa’s first state park during 1920. Ledges State Park and Dolliver Memorial State Park quickly followed as the next two, and a period of expansion paired local fundraising efforts with park creation to radically reshape the available outdoor recreation opportunities for Iowans during the 1920s.

Development ramped up with New Deal programs including the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration during the 1930s, and Iowa’s state park system continued to expand. Periods of growth also took place during the 1960s and 1970s as the state focused on enhancing access to man-made lakes for all Iowans. Today, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources oversees the state park system to ensure the continuation of Iowa’s public lands legacy. (for more information, please check out the Notes on Iowa State Park series, which continues to profile the history of a specific park with new additions each week). #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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