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Iowa History Daily: May 28 - Iowa Gets a Backbone

Iowa History Daily: On May 28, 1919, Backbone State Park became Iowa’s first state park. Located in the Maquoketa River Valley, the park near Strawberry Point featuring steep ridges of carved bedrock along the river known as “The Devil’s Backbone” continues to welcome thousands of visitors each year.

Edward M. Carr bought 1,200 acres during the 1890s in order to protect the Backbone Ridge, leading Iowa Park and Forestry Association member Thomas MacBride to suggest the area as Iowa’s first state park. When the State Board of Conservation first met for an inaugural meeting during December of 1918, the group approved a recommendation to buy the land. While the purchase took over a year, by May 28, 1920, Backbone State Park officially offered new outdoor opportunities to Iowans.

Development of the park followed slowly, and in 1925 initial tree planting commenced. Plans for a roadway started, but tensions developed as to how the park should value preservation (keeping lands as pristine as possible) vs. conservation (multiple-use) stalling development during the 1920s and early 1930s. Eventually, the multi-use faction won the debate, opening the door for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to establish two camps at the park.

From 1933 to 1942 the CCC built overnight cabins, picnic, hiking, camping, trails, and other features throughout the park. During 1933 and 1934 the CCC constructed the dam and spillways, as well as the iconic sundial and bathhouse near the southern end of the park. Also around the same time work on the Backbone Trail and steps, allowing hikers to take in breathtaking views along the top of Backbone Ridge.

The 2,001 acre park contains large stands of oak and maple, and provides a wonderful representation of the Driftless geology left unglaciated during the last Ice Age. Twenty-miles of multi-use trails still exist in the park today, and a variety of local wildlife call Iowa’s first state park home. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar


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