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Rock Creek State Park - Notes on Iowa State Park Series, Episode, 72

Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Rock Creek State Park.

The drive to create a man-made lake near Newton started with local citizens banding together to advocate for construction in Jasper County. When the state unveiled a 25-year plan stipulating the creation of artificial lakes throughout the southern portion of the state, people in Newton petitioned the Iowa Legislature for funds to create a park in the county. Led by the Emerson Hough Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, advocated to Robert Blue and the Iowa Conservation Commission in 1946. The following year, the state legislature appropriated funds and eminent domain proceedings started in 1950 to acquire the lands for the lake and park. Although the state initially planned to construct a lake with over 1,500 surface acres, funding shortages paired down the plan to roughly a third of the initially planned size. To help raise additional funds, Rock Creek Home Sites Corporation sold 117 building lots near the lake.

In August of 1950, work started on construction of the 500’ sluiceway. Later in the year work on the 1,650’ dam and spillway commenced. Over the winter crews used dynamite to blast frozen dirt and rocks to allow the continuation of work. By June of 1952, the dam reached completion and the gates closed to start filling the lake. Over 12,000 people turned out for the dedication of Rock Creek State Park on August 24, 1952, and the lake boasted 641 surface acres and a maximum depth of 24 feet. The park’s initial development included modern camping facilities, a shower house, picnicking grounds, and a boat rental and concessions building near the beach. During May of 1964, officials celebrated the opening of swimming season by dedicating a new bath house. Other improvements in the year included a resurfaced road. While construction on Interstate 80 between Des Moines and the Illinois border finished up in 1966, Rock Creek rose to popularity. During 1971, the state installed new docks and rock jetties to improve access for those hoping to shoreline fish.

As many Iowans made memories at Rock Creek, the reservoir’s large watershed started to prove problematic. Standing at 26,698 acres, siltation and other water quality issues quickly arose to cause problems at the lake. Over the decades the lake shrank considerably, losing over 100 acres by the year 2000. The state sought to address the issues by creating catch basins within the park’s bounds while also acquiring additional lands to the park’s northwest during 2003 to improve natural filtration. Despite the efforts, the lake’s depth only stood at 18’ wile the pool size shrank to 491 acres. Officials estimate intensive row cropping dumps of 25,000 tons of soil into the lake each year, much of it carrying phosphorus and other nutrients which degrade water quality. The state continues to work with the Rock Creek Watershed Project to find solutions to ensure the future health of the lake and park.

The park features several prairie remnants and re-established prairies. Over 45 forbs and grasses can be found within the parks bounds, and many visitors enjoy catching a glimpse of Iowa’s natural vegetation.

Today, Rock Creek State Park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in central Iowa. The park features several prairie remnants and re-established prairies. Over 45 forbs and grasses can be found within the parks bounds, and many visitors enjoy catching a glimpse of Iowa’s natural vegetation. More than 8-miles of trials, including a five-mile trail connecting to nearby Grinnell, offer opportunities for hikers, cyclers, and equestrian enthusiasts. Several boat ramps offer access for those hoping to enjoy the waters of Rock Creek Lake, while docks and jetties provide quality shoreline access for Iowa’s anglers. Extensive camping facilities offer modern options for those hoping to spend the night. The beach, playgrounds, and picnic shelters offer great opportunities for those hoping to pass an enjoyable afternoon.

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