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Lost Island State Park - Notes on Iowa State Park Series, Episode 54

Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Lost Island-Huston County Park.

The 1,200-acre natural lake welcomed human inhabitation from a time immemorial. Both archeological evidence and oral tradition hold the lake as a significant site for Iowa’s Indigenous peoples. Local legend holds two theories on the mysterious name of the lake. In the 1937 Iowa State Parks guide, the ICC alludes to an old Indigenous story telling of a heavily wooded island in the lake avoided by the areas inhabitants. One night, the island mysteriously disappeared, leading to the Lost Island moniker.

Another theory from the era of American settlement provides a different explanation for the Lost Island name. The prairie pothole region of the Des Moines Lobe where the lake exists once featured one of the world’s greatest complexes of wetlands. As evidenced by the proximity of other bodies of water immediately adjacent to Lost Island Lake including Mud Lake, Trumball Lake, Round Lake, Blue Wing Marsh, and Barringer Slough, the landscape of Palo Alto County represented a soggy challenge to settlers arriving during the late-1800s hoping to farm. As draining, ditching, and tiling remade the landscape, settlement climbed and stage coach routes built roads through the area to a low-lying place called “Anthony’s Island.” As the locals reshaped the landscape, the area around the island dried up, leading to the name Lost Island Lake. Local legend holds Jesse James and his infamous gang of outlaws hid out in the area around the lake during their Iowa crime-sprees, and family histories in the area speak of farmers selling eggs to the outlaws on the run.

A popular fishing and picnicking spot during the early 1900s, work from individuals imprisoned at Fort Dodge provided for construction of the park’s initial shelter house in 1920 in a ‘pioneer cabin’ peeled-log style similar to others constructed throughout the state in the decade. During the initial era of park creation under the Iowa Conservation Commission, 24-acres at Lost Island Lake came under state control during 1924. On June 28, 1927 the park officially entered the Iowa State Park system through a dedication ceremony. Later in the year, workers planted two bushels of walnuts at the site hoping to provide more shade along the lakeshore. picnic areas and bath houses soon followed to add to the amenities at Lost Island.

In 1928, the state undertook an archeological dig at the site to open what local papers called an “Indian burial ground.” The 15’ x 3’ arrangement of stones held a variety of pottery, but no remains, on inspection leading officials to suggest someone already raided the supposed tomb. Newspapers detail decades of peaceful picnics and interesting presentations at the park over the mid-20th century.

Significant change came to Lost Island when the state deeded the lands to the newly created Palo Alto County Conservation Board during July of 1964. Pairing the 27-acres acquired from the state with an additional parcel of 44-acres held by popular local physician Dr. Herbert Mark Huston of Ruthven. In December of 1964, the county officially renamed the park Lost Island-Huston County Park. In the years to follow, the county took full advantage of ownership and worked to expand amenities at the park. New habitat management plans, additional roads, plans for a new shelter, and a new boat ramp all led to improvements at the park site. Although a 1974 fire destroyed the peeled-log shelter house, work to complete a new shelter finished by 1978. Another shelter near the boat ramp followed in 1981, and in 1983 Palo Alto County Conservation constructed an outdoor classroom and self-guided interpretive trail. The federal government granted first ever FMHA easement of 57-acres in 1987 to add to county held lands at the site. Continuing to build on the momentum, construction of a large nature center finished in 1993. In 1995, the Emmetsburg Boosters 4-H club worked with county officials to build a bird observation blind and dock on a marsh adjacent to the lake.

Today, Lost Island-Huston Park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in northwestern Iowa. A fully-modern campground consisting of 24-sites welcomes visitors hoping to spend the night. Swimmers still flock to the beach each summer to cool off, and anglers enjoy shoreline and boat ramp access to the 1,200 acre lake. Heavily timbered trails pair with picnic shelters 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 Lost Island-Huston County 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, Lost Island-Huston County Park shines as a must visit for all people hoping to see Iowa Slowly.

Thanks for coming along with notes on Iowa to explore Lost Island-Huston County 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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