Located just north of Hawarden on the banks of the Big Sioux River in Sioux County, a 101-acre state park holds natural and historic treasures.
Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Oak Grove Park.
Shortly after the creation of the State Conservation Commission, citizens of Sioux County started advocating for a state park on the Big Sioux. The Hawarden Booster Club proved pivotal as local efforts got underway in the hopes of securing lands for a park. By November 15, 1923, the Hawarden Independent reported: “A movement has been launched by the Hawarden Booster Club for the establishment of a State Park along the Sioux river,” before further reporting a committee planned to inspect the site dubbed ‘Oak Grove’ the following spring.
Several features of the site likely caught the attention of the state inspectors, most notably the presence of Iowa’s oldest exposed bedrock, Sioux quartzite dating back over 1 billion years, as well as rolling bluffs carpeted with dense oak, basswood, elm, maple, and poplar.
As the state mulled the site, the boosters kept working to raise the necessary funds for purchase. The 77-acre site, owned by local man John Feikema, offered to sell the lands for a reported $10,000. While the people of Sioux County raised the lion’s share, the state agreed to cover a portion in order to complete the sale on August 5, 1924.
The following year, the state set aside $2,500 for improvements to the newly purchased park primarly for the purpose of constructing a road within the bounds. Additionally, Sioux County provided funds for the construction of an improved road from Hawarden to the park. Aside from improved access, little work went into the site over the first few years.
In 1930, the State started work on a small, peeled-log shelter house for the park. Representative of the pre-Civilian Era Conservation Corps era of state park improvements within the state, the picnic shelter still stands proudly as evidence of the earliest era of Iowa’s state park development. As the Great Depression deepened across the decade, additional workers arrived to work on Oak Grove.
Most notably, a group of Civilian Conservation Corps workers drawn specifically from unemployed World War I veterans and known as Company no. 1776 side camp no. 1 spent significant time improving the park. Trail work, tree planting, development of the picnic area, and other projects helped move the park closer to completion. The workers additionally constructed the caretaker’s residence which still stands in the park before departing in October of 1934.
Local papers reported a golden era of picnics and pleasant drives through the park over the course of the 1940s and 1950s, however, by the early 1960s locals started advocating for change. When Sioux County voters approved a small tax for the creation of a County Conservation Board in November of 1960, one of the principal reasons for advocates rested with improvements in management at Oak Grove. In 1962 the state and the Sioux County Conservation Board reached a new management agreement and named William Kelly as new caretaker.
A new ear opened for the park under county management, and construction projects created a pair of new shelters, improved existing structures, erected an enclosed lodge, built a headquarters building, and provided for the creation of two campgrounds. An additional land purchase aided by federal funds allowed for the county to take on Big Sioux Park, directly adjacent to Oak Grove to push the holdings at the site to a robust 433 acres overlooking the Big Sioux. Careful caretaking continues to allow Sioux County to improve the park.
Today, Oak Grove offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in northwestern Iowa. A variety of shelters offer opportunities to gather with friends in all seasons, and the Prairie Woods Nature Center offers opportunities for education. A variety of trails, playground equipment, and seasonal equipment rentals offer different options for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy the park. A boat ramp offers access to the Big Sioux, and two modern campgrounds pair with seasonal cabin rentals to offer visitors the chance to soak in the beauty of northwestern Iowa.
Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Oak Grove 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, Oak Grove 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 Oak Grove State Park.
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I hope I’ll see you out there!