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McIntosh Woods State Park - Notes on Iowa State Parks Series, Episode 52

Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore McIntosh Woods State Park.

Early American settlement in Cerro Gordo county rapidly bloomed into the body of water’s namesake town alongside Clear Lake during the mid-1850s. With the small community of Ventura also forming on the lake’s northwestern shore, much of the lakeshore underwent development long before the onset of the public lands era in Iowa. With many agricultural lands abutting the lake, water quality deteriorated as Iowa underwent significant environmental landscape and land usage change.

The second state park alongside Clear Lake’s glacially shaped shores created by the Iowa Conservation Commission during the early era of park creation, officials initially eyed the site on the north shore of the 3,625 acre Clear Lake first. When land purchase stalled, focus shifted across the lake to create Clear Lake State Park in 1924. Massive attendance numbers at Clear Lake State Park helped to create demand for a second point for the public to access the popular North Iowa lake. During the 1930s efforts of locals who formed the Association for the Protection of Clear Lake, the state worked to address water-quality and access to lakeshore. A 1939 dredging project partially focused on the area surrounding the lakeshore at the popular camping site known locally as McIntosh Woods. The local Association held barbeques and clambakes to help raise funds to secure an option to purchase the initial 60-acre park site from Rose McIntosh in 1942, and locals hosted over 84 Iowa legislators for a picnic at the park to showcase why the government should allot funds to the Iowa Conservation Commission in order to complete purchase and create a state park in 1943. In late March of 1943 Governor Hickenlopper signed a bill formally creating McIntosh Woods State Park. Area citizens formally recommended the ICC name the park McIntosh Woods to recognize the family who helped preserve the natural history of the lands from settlement until acceptance into state protected status.

In 1944, work started on providing a road into the new park, and by August 12 the lands stood ready for official entrance and dedication into the Iowa state park system. An immediately popular park, development largely lagged over the late-1940s. In 1950, the Association for the Protection of Clear Lake called for improved parking and other necessary amenities at the park. The state responded by drilling a new well, creating two additional parking areas, and improving the beach on the point. Small projects continued to slowly add amenities overtime including the development of a modern campground during the 1980s, the creation of a 1.5 mile boardwalk interpretive trail around mallard marsh featuring a bird viewing blind, and the first yurts constructed within the Iowa state park system. Additionally, the state acquired 278 acres adjacent to the park site to create the McIntosh Wildlife Management Area, which includes Hoffman Prairie, to the northeast of the main park.

Today, McIntosh Woods State Park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in North Iowa. Visitors still flock to the park year-round for access to the waters of Clear Lake. A popular launchpoint for anglers hoping to test the waters in summer, the park also serves as a point of access for people hoping to ice fish during Iowa’s winter months. 45 electric campsites pair with two yurts for those hoping to spend the night. Playground equipment, an unsupervised swimming area off the west side of the point, picnic grounds, and an abundance of wildflowers provide options for those hoping to pass a pleasant afternoon. A popular winter hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing spot in the winter months, a few short trails winding through the woods also provide adequate hiking in options along the lakeshore and through the bur-oak shaded landscape in the summer.

Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop McIntosh 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, McIntosh 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 McIntosh Woods 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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