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Sharon Bluffs State Park - Notes on Iowa State Park Series, Episode 80

Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Sharon Bluffs State Park.

Featuring steep wooded slopes broken by clay and shale outcroppings along the eastern bank of the Chariton River, the Sharon Bluffs rise to overlook the surrounding floodplain. While the natural history at the site stretches into the unknowable past, the site caught the attention of Brigham Young’s Mormon expedition across Iowa during 1846. Local legend holds the Mormons named the site Sharon Bluffs because it reminded them of Sharon, Vermont, hometown of Latter-Day Saints Prophet Joseph Smith. After the Mormons passed west, the name stuck as a small settlement named Sharon rose along the river at the site. When nearby Centerville grew to represent the primary community in the area, the small town of Sharon disappeared. However, the name originally bestowed by the Mormons in 1846 stayed attached to the site.

The public lands story at Sharon Bluffs starts with local efforts spearheaded by the Association of Commerce of Centerville leading the charge to raise funds and purchase the initial 25-acres from William Evans. At a cost of $1,375, the initial purchase provided the core parklands. An additional $6,000 purchase, again led by local efforts in Centerville, provided an additional 121-acres of lands at the site. With the lands in hand, the park stood poised for development as the Civilian Conservation Corps arrived in Iowa during the 1930s. The CCC, working heavily in the area while stationed for nearly five years at nearby Lake Wapello, provided for much of the park’s development. The workers hacked trails into the heavily wooded forest, constructed a stone-and-timber picnic shelter, built latrines, and provided auto access through the road and parking lot construction. As the CCC departed, development of the park came to a close and southern Iowans settled into years of camping outings and picnics at the park.

During the mid-20th century, the park started to fall into disrepair. Locals appealed to the state for improved maintenance, and by the late 1970s a proposal started to come together for a transfer of responsibilities for the care of Sharon Bluffs toward local control. Starting in 1981, the Appanoose County Conservation Board stepped up to take over care and maintenance responsibilities for the park. With the transfer of control, a new era dawned for Sharon Bluffs as workers and volunteers worked tirelessly to improve the park. Many projects, large and small, took place in the decades which followed including a major renovation to the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed shelter during 1998. In 2000, efforts came together to provide for the creation of a nature center at the park to provide for educational activities and displays. The construction of the nature center also allowed for the creation of live animal exhibits housing elk, owls, hawks, and other native species. Additionally, modernization of the small campground and improvements to the boat ramp helped to round out amenities at the park.

Today, Sharon Bluffs State Park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in southern Iowa. Trails wind through the heavily wooded bluffs along the river to offer a challenge for hikers. The east access offers a boat ramp for Iowa anglers hoping to test the waters of the Chariton River. The six-site campground provides an option for those hoping to spend the night. The CCC-era shelter, playground, picnic grounds, and nature center all provide great options for those hoping to pass a pleasant afternoon.

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