Located on the northside of Des Moines in Polk County, a 136-acre state park holds natural and historic treasures.
Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Margo Frankel Woods State Park.
A site representing the deeper history of Iowa’s past, the Sauk and Meskwaki inhabited the site until dispossession by the American government pushed the tribes west during 1845. With Second Fort Des Moines freshly opened just to the south at the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers, Captain James Allen of the 1st United States Dragoons got the assignment to parcel out the land to settlers who could help provide vital supplies to the fort. Two of the settlers, John B. and John P. Saylor found remembrance in an initial park at the site named Saylor Woods in the heart of Polk County’s Saylor Township.
As the City of Des Moines grew around the heavily timbered ravines of Saylor Woods, the state park era of Iowa dawned. A Des Moines woman named Margo Frankel served on the Iowa Conservation Board from starting in 1927, and helped to protect and expand Iowan’s access to public lands. The chairperson of both the Iowa Board of Conservation and the Iowa Conservation Commission, and even received an award from the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society while serving on the National Conference on State Parks.
While parks popped up throughout the state, the capitol city of Des Moines stood without a park through the 1920s and 1930s. In 1945, the Greater Des Moines Committee started working to rectify the situation by purchasing the Saylor Woods site and turning the lands over to the Iowa Conservation Commission. The state initially classified the site as a state refuge, however, after Margo Frankel’s death in 1948, the Frankel family helped improve the site through the donation of two parcels of land totaling 32 acres now included in the park. In honor of Margo Frankel’s service to conservation in Iowa, the state renamed the site Margo Frankel Woods State Park upon reclassification and dedication into the state park system in 1948.
Site development followed over the decades. Trail work, including a bridal trail in the western portion of the park, helped to provide access to the steeply wooded slopes and ravines of the park when the Ding Darling Chapter of the Izaak Walton League took on the task. During the 1970s, the state constructed two picnic shelters at the site. In 1981, the Saylorville Jaycees raised funds for the construction of a playground. The improved amenities aimed to offer the citizens of the continually growing City of Des Moines an option to escape into nature without going far from home.
A gem of a park often utilized by local residents, the Saylor Township trustees started exploring the possibility of assuming management during the 1980s. When budgetary restrictions forced the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to explore new management agreements throughout the state, the Saylor Township Trustees stepped up to take over the task of caring for Margo Frankel Woods State Park. A period of renewal followed, as countless volunteer hours from locals allowed for construction of new shelter houses, improved playground equipment funded by matching locally raised funding with state resources. The Urbandale boy scouts also lent a hand to construct steps on the steepest stretches of trails at the site.
Today, Margo Frankel Woods State Park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in central Iowa. Trails offer a variety of difficulties, picnic shelters continue to welcome celebrations, and the playgrounds offer a great place to spend an afternoon.
Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Margo Frankel Woods 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, Margo Frankel Woods 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 Margo Frankel Woods State Park.
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I hope I’ll see you out there!