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Lower Gar State Recreation Area - Notes on Iowa State Park Series, Episode 95

Located along the northeastern shore of Lower Gar Lake in Dickinson County, a 20-acre state recreation area holds natural and historic treasures.


Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Lower Gar State Recreation Area.


Lower Gar, one of five lakes connected in the Iowa Great Lakes chain along with West Okoboji, East Okoboji, Minnewashta, and Upper Gar, lacked development as early Iowa Conservation Commission development throughout the area focused on other properties. While state parks, including Gull Point, Pike’s Point, and Mini-Wakan, saw the primary early development around the Iowa Great Lakes, Iowans asked for greater public access over the course of the 20th century. The development of state recreation areas, including Templar, Emerson Bay, and Marble Beach, all sought to meet specific needs including improved camping and lake access across the chain of lakes.


At an indeterminate point in time during the early to mid-20th century, the state secured 12-acres for public access near the meeting point of Minnewashta and Lower Gar lakes, and installed a small boat ramp. Fishermen occasionally camped at the site. In 1971, the state focused development on creating shoreline access along Lower Gar. The acquisition of eight additional acres of lakefront on Lower Gar allowed for the state to accomplish the goal of providing better shoreline fishing access. During 1981, the road within the park closed to traffic temporarily and the state discontinued camping at the park site.


Trail work planning during 1991 ran into a hangup due to the potential presence of Indigenous burial mounds within the park site. Part of the broader Spine Trail Project connecting Milford and Spirit Lake, work moved forward after archeological site surveys allowed officials to determine an appropriate pathway through the park. The project also included the construction of a DOT-funded, $133,920 bridge connecting Lower Gar State Recreation Area east to Henderson Slough over the meeting point of Lower Gar Lake and Minnewashta Lake. By the fall of 1992 the trail and bridge proved ready for dedication, and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad officially cut the ribbon to officially open the trail during October. Also during the 1990s, the Lower Gar site provided a site for several nature programs and hikes hosted by the Dickinson County Conservation Board.


Today, Lower Gar State Recreation Area offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in northwestern Iowa.  Iowa’s anglers enjoy testing the waters of Lower Gar through the presence of a boat ramp and several fishing areas along the shoreline. The small recreation area offers several shaded picnic tables with excellent lake views, and the paved trail running through the park area hooks into the broader network connecting the broader Iowa Great Lakes Region.


Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Lower Gar State Recreation Area. A truly stunning representation of Iowa’s natural beauty and a testament to the necessity of maintaining opportunities to get outdoors for all Iowans, Lower Gar State Recreation Area shines as a must visit for all people hoping to see Iowa Slowly.


Thanks for coming along with notes on Iowa to explore Lower Gar State Recreation Area.


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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