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Lenon Mill State Park - Notes on Iowa State Park Series, Episode 90

Located along the Middle Raccoon River in Panora of Guthrie County, a 21-acre former state park holds natural and historic treasures.


Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore what used to be Lenon Mill State Park.


The mill which gives the park its name originally rose beside the Middle Raccoon River during 1861. Constructed by John Clive, the flour mill started operations prior to the American Civil War.


An early entrant into the Iowa State Parks system, Lenon Mill gained entrance for the historical significance of the mill itself. Still actively milling flour alongside the Middle Raccoon until 1940, the ‘old Lenon Mill’ stood proudly while many other mills in Iowa slowly faded away. During the New Deal Era, the large Civilian Conservation Corps camp stationed at nearby Springbrook State Park provided labor to construct a concrete low-head dam at the Lenon Mill site. Improving upon and replacing the original mill-dam, the CCC work helped to provide for improved river control at the park site.


By 1952, only ten remained in the state with the Lenon Mill and the Pine Creek Mill at Wildcat Den State Park under the care of the Iowa Conservation Commission. Poor maintenance led to the mill’s demise, even after the Iowa Legislature provided $10,000 for repairs in 1955 the structure continued to move toward demolition. The Iowa Conservation Commission failed to protect the structure by not utilizing the already allotted funds, essentially holding the building ransom while asking for a greater allotment. When the legislature balked at the blackmail attempt, and without further funding the ICC pulled down the 9-decade old Iowa historic treasure later in the year. Without the historic mill which originally drew the state to take hold of the site, the park languished as an after-thought in the Iowa state parks system.


Soon after the founding of the Guthrie County Conservation Board in 1966, work started to move Lenon Mill out of the start park system and into local control. The state offered the initial 3-acre state park site and an adjacent 18.9-acre parcel on a long-term lease to the conservation board during early 1968. When the state finalized the lease later in the year, the county conservation board soon set about improving facilities at the park. Construction of a shelter house and restrooms paired with improvements to the parking area to provide better amenities. Creation of a campground, installation of playground equipment, and the setting of the mill stone from the demolished mill in a historical marker all helped to create a new era for Lenon Mill. The effort paired with a city initiative to move the Panora Railroad Depot to an adjacent parcel of land in order to start a county historical museum.


During 1969, the damming at Lake Panorama threatened water-levels along the Middle Raccoon. Officials grew concerned when water stopped flowing over the Lenon Mill dam site, and soon plans came together to dig a diversion channel upstream at the Lake Panorama to ensure water flow on the river. With the water backed up, workers took advantage of the situation to make repairs to the concrete dam at the park site. Soon water again started to move over the Lenon Mill dam and through the park.


In 1993, flooding inundated the park as the Middle Raccoon rose out of its banks. The flood washed away the shelter house within the park. However, by late summer, Guthrie County Conservation announced the park proved ready for campers to again start spending the night. Flood waters again created challenges at the Lenon Mill site during 2015. During June, consistently heavy rains forced waters out of the river to inundate the park.


Today, Lenon Mill offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in west-central Iowa.  The first access point on the Middle Raccoon Water Trail, the park proves a popular launching point for kayakers and canoers hoping to ply the river’s waters. A variety of camping options ranging from primitive to modern offer an opportunity to spend the night. Iowa’s anglers enjoying testing the waters of the Middle Raccoon from shoreline or dam options. Horseshoe pits, picnic tables, a rebuilt shelter house, and playground equipment help provide a variety of options for those hoping to pass a pleasant afternoon.


Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Lenon Mill 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, Lenon Mill shines as a must visit for all people hoping to see Iowa Slowly.


Thanks for coming along with notes on Iowa to explore what used to be Lenon Mill 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!


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