Jutting out into West Okoboji in the Iowa Great Lakes chain near Spirit Lake in Dickinson County, a 15-acre state park holds natural and historic treasures.
Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Pikes Point State Park.
West Okoboji, Iowa’s deepest lake, formed nearly 13,000 years ago as a glacial pothole lake. Okoboji, derived from a Dakota word meaning ‘place of rest,’ proved a draw for humans from a time immemorial. Both the Ioway and Dakota peoples long occupied the shores prior to American settlement arrived during the mid-1850s. As the region developed into one of the most popular summer vacation spots in the Midwest, many affluent families built near Pike’s Point on West Okoboji’s northeastern shore. Newspaper reports detail a Manhattan orchestra playing at the point for the entertainment of wealthy vacationers in 1894, and the location as a starting point for sailing races during 1907. While the Iowa Conservation Commission formed, Pike’s Point continued to grow in popularity as a favorite spot for picnics, camping, fishing, and other outdoor activities while under control of the Okoboji Yacht Club during the early decades of the 1900s.
In late 1931, the State of Iowa bought three acres at Pike’s Point, and on August 18, 1932, the Spirit Lake Beacon reported the purchase of lands by the State of Iowa at Pike’s Point, writing: “It is the first tract of land owned by the state on either the Okoboji Lakes or Spirit Lake.” Over the 1930s, the state’s holdings rapidly increased throughout the Iowa Great Lakes region as Gull Point, Trapper’s Bay, Pillsbury Point, and other small parcels came under control of the ICC. Paired with the arrival of the Civilian Conservation Corps camp 778 at Gull Point State Park, work on many properties throughout the region including Pike’s Point commenced. After workers from the state’s fish and game department conducted an initial cleanup of the property, the CCC arrived to further develop the park in 1934. In a year where the group working out of the Gull Point camp completed an astounding 57 total projects around the Iowa Great Lakes, the stone shelter at Pike’s Point stands out as the most significant improvement at the site. Additionally, the CCC completed shoreline work, construction of the steps, tree planting, and other work at Pike’s Point.
The shelter itself still serves as a major focal point of the small park, and represents the architecture and construction style of the Civilian Conservation Corps it found listing on the National Register of Historic Places in November of 1990. Featuring locally-sourced stone and timber materials, the shelter features two fireplaces and a 29-foot long curved stone bench.
With the departure of the CCC, Pike’s Point stood as largely developed into the park familiar to visitors today. The society pages of Spirit Lake area papers are packed with pleasant picnics at Pike’s Point and other outings across the middle of the 20th century. Notable fish caught near the site, like the 14-pound blue catfish nabbed by Glen Williamson in 1959, also make up the bulk of reports from the park during the post-war era. During the 1970s, the park welcomed runners as the starting point for the University of Okoboji Homecoming Marathon and Half-Marathon.
In the 1990s, a $1500 renovation project focused on Gull Point and the shelter at Pike’s Point paired with nomination to the National Register to ensure the structure will continue to welcome visitors for picnics and other gatherings for decades to come. A 2018 fire jeopardized the structure and forced a renovation of the roof, but ultimately the stone building survived.
Today, Pikes Point State Park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in northwestern Iowa. Home to one of the most popular swimming beaches of the Iowa Great Lakes, many visitors come to cool off in the waters of West O during the summer months. The stone CCC shelter continues to welcome picnicers, playground equipment offer opportunities for children to play, and anglers enjoy shoreline fishing opportunities.
Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Pikes Point 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, Pikes Point 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 Pikes Point State Park.
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I hope I’ll see you out there!