Located east of Oskaloosa in Mahaska County, a 366-acre state park holds natural and historic treasures.
Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Lake Keomah State Park.
Named for two Iowa counties who themselves find their namesakes in Iowa Indigenous leaders, Keokuk and Mahaska. As the Sauk and Meskwaki headed west during the dispossessive era following the Black Hawk War, the government set the Red Rock Line in nearby Marion County for the tribes to cross by 1843. Although the tribes largely left the area, the names of the significant leaders stuck to the counties.
As the Iowa State Park system developed during the early 1920s, residents in Keokuk and Mahaska counties came together to raise funds for the creation of a state park. After the state worked to identify an adequately rolling landscape along a South Skunk River tributary during the early 1930s, the funds raised allowed the state to pursue land purchase. At the time, the Iowa Conservation Commission focused on creating outdoor recreation opportunities for Iowans through damming and lake creation. In addition to Lake Keomah, projects at Pine Lake and Lake MacBride took place during the mid-1930s. On October 8, 1933, people poured from nearby towns to witness the groundbreaking on dam construction. Many local residents hoped to enjoy the lake front from the opposite shore of the state park in the Lake Keomah Village, a newly created housing development tied to the land donation.
Following the groundbreaking on the dam, significant development of the park commenced with the assistance of three New Deal era organizations: the Civilian Conservation Corps, the National Youth Administration, and the Civil Works Administration. The CCC left the most significant imprint on the park: the workers not only built the dam and completed shoreline work, but also built a distinctive stone bath house featuring an octagonal check-in room. Additionally, the men used locally sourced stone to build a stone large representative of the CCC architectural and construction style. Additionally, New Deal workers completed trail work, road construction, tree planting, and other habitat management.
While the work commenced to provide the necessary amenities and distinctive features of the park, the state held a formal dedication ceremony in 1935 upon the successful completion of dam and filling of the 84-acre lake. With the work completed and the park formally opened to the public, decades of peaceful picnics, family reunions, and refreshing beach days awaited the people of Mahaska and Keokuk counties.
Small maintenance projects over the years helped to keep the park open, including the 1980s renovation of the campground, periodic fish restocking and management efforts, and continuous water quality testing.
Over the decades, the park fell into disrepair, especially the CCC constructed buildings. However, in the early 2000s, major efforts at the state and local level came together to provide for a truly special restoration project. By July of 2004, major renovations to the lodge, bath house, and other park features returned the park to glory. A rededication ceremony followed to formally recognize the work put into the park’s revitalization.
Today, Lake Keomah offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in east central Iowa. A three-mile hiking and walking trial rings the lake and provides access to a variety of wildlife habitats. The beach continues to welcome swimmers in the warmer months, and snowmobiles are welcome on the trails during the Iowa winter. Two boat ramps offer access for electric boats, and anglers enjoy testing the waters for bluegill, crappie, and largemouth bass. A modern camp ground and group camping facilities offer options for those hoping to spend the night.
Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Lake Keomah 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, Lake Keomah 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 Lake Keomah State Park.
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I hope I’ll see you out there!