Located east of Lamoni across Interstate 35 near Davis City and a stone’s throw from the Iowa-Missouri border in Decatur County, a 1,100-acre state park holds natural and historic treasures.
Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Nine Eagles State Park.
Although the park itself only dates to 1952, the history of the site links back to America’s earliest settlement of the southernmost portion of Iowa. An enterprising man named Allen Scott, known for his rough-and-tumble demeanor, claimed forty acres of the current park site in 1839. Scott quickly set to work, setting up a trading post, mill, and post office. The park’s name, Nine Eagles, derives from Scott’s post office which was known by the same name. Sources differ on the origination of the name: either Scott spotted nine eagles roosting in the trees above his initial claim site upon arrival, or that the prominent early family had nine rowdy children known to other locals as the ‘Nine Eagles.’ Whatever the origin, the name stuck to the parcel.
As the settlement era of the 1800s faded into the onset of the Iowa State Park era of the early 1900s, the central portion of southern Iowa lacked in public lands. During 1941 the people of Decatur county decided to do something about it, and purchased the initial parcel of lands for $10 an acre and handed the tract over to the Iowa Conservation Commission. The locals also donated an additional $2,000 to help provide for the initial development of the park. The state used some of the funds to purchase additional adjacent lands, and announced the developing state park would be known as ‘Nine Eagles.’
The timing of land donation coincided with the close of the Civilian Conservation Corps Era in Iowa, and as federal workers traded in shovels and axes for rifles and helmets with the onset of World War II development of Nine Eagles stalled. During the post-war era plans came together for a 1,000’ long and 40’ tall dam on a tributary of the Thompson River at the site, and when workers completed construction in the early 1950s the resultant Nine Eagles Lake flooded portions of three valleys within the parks bounds. The 64-acre lake awaited visitors attendings the park’s official dedication and induction into the Iowa State Park system on June 22, 1952.
In the immediate aftermath of dedication and opening, more development followed. The state put in place amenities for camping and picnicking, while workers also created a beach and shoreline fishing options. The state stocked the 64-acre lake with bullheads, crappies, largemouth bass, and fathead minnows. Trails spread through the hilltop prairies of the site and interlaced the heavily timbered oak forests which blanket the rolling ravines.
A popular spot, especially for picnicking and fishing during the 1960s and 1970s, the state continued to work to improve recreational opportunities at the park over the decades. In 1974, state fish stocking efforts introduced northern pike to the lake. As the years dragged on, favorable fishing reports followed until 1999 when the Osceola Sentinel Tribune reported the EPA placed Nine Eagles, as well as several other local bodies of water on the impaired waters list, citing high turbidity. In 2000, the state held a series of meetings seeking public input on proposed improvements to solve the water quality problem in the lake. Extensive watershed work to decrease sedimentation and improve water clarity followed, helping to improve the waters and ensure the continued ability of southern Iowans to enjoy the site’s lake into the modern era.
Today, Nine Eagles State Park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in southern Iowa. 9 miles of mixed use trails wind through the hilly woods and prairies, including a seven mile segment which welcomes horses in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter. Five small docks ring the lake, while boat ramps offer opportunities for rowboats, kayaks, and electric motor boats. Electric, non-electric, primitive, equestrian, and cabin camping options allow visitors a plethora of opportunities to spend the night. Nature enthusiasts enjoy soaking in the diverse plant and animal life found throughout the park.
Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Nine Eagles 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, Nine Eagles 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 Nine Eagles State Park.
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I hope I’ll see you out there!