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Spring Lake State Park - Notes on Iowa State Parks Series, Episode 81

Located near Grand Junction and Jefferson in Greene County, a 240-acre former state park holds natural and historic treasures.


Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore what used to be Spring Lake State Park.


Nestled near the western edge of the Des Moines Lobe, the knob and kettle geography of the area surrounding spring brook offered rich soils and geologic deposits scattered across an undulating landscape. Wet lowlands helped to construct abundantly rich soils, and deposits of clay and limestone attracted miners looking for the raw materials necessary for road construction, tiling, and brick making. Extractive industry first reshaped the landscape at Spring Lake as the Northwestern Railroad opened up a large gravel pit at the site during the 1860s. Positioned along West Burrick Creek, excavation of the pit eventually hit springs which filled the site with exceptionally clear spring water.


Drawn by the pristine waters, a group of investors from Boone arrived during the early 1920s to turn the site from extractive industry into summertime attraction. Focused on building a resort at the site, the owners of the Nic-O-Let resort already operating at “the playground of Central Iowa” near Boone, construction soon started. Billed as “the dance palace of Iowa,” the resort booked impressive entertainments including Count Basie, Lawrence Welk, Guy Lombardo, Ina Ray Hulton and Jimmy Dorsey. The big band era entertainment wooed audiences who paid the 10-cent admission to the “Crystal Ballroom” where many central-Iowans danced the night away. During the resort era of the park, construction of a roller rink in 1929, development of the beach area, and other enhancements helped to make the park site a favorite for visitors.


The site entered the state park era in 1949. While the state acquired much of the current-park footprint, buildings, including the Crystal Ballroom Dance Hall were sold off. The ballroom, sold for $2,350, quickly came down as workers disassembled the building and removed the lumber. The roller rink, however, stood the test of time and remained a feature of the site into the state park era. As the buildings came down, locals worked with the Iowa Conservation Commission to come up with plans for the park. A group of area citizens came together to form an organization for the improvement of Spring Lake State Park during 1952, primarily hoping to put together a dreamed of list of developments for the Iowa General Assembly to consider funding.


Dreams of development funding quickly grew into frustrations across the 1950s and early 1960s as even small projects struggled to come to fruition at Spring Lake State Park. In 1957 a $62,500 proposal finally found its way to the legislature in the hopes of providing for a two-year project to improve roads, provide for a harbor, and remove unsightly buildings including the roller-rink. When the legislature filed to act, local enthusiasm continued to turn toward contempt. By 1963, when the Iowa Conservation Commission announced a plan to start forming agreements with county conservation commissions to provide for cost savings, editorials quickly emerged in Greene County newspapers advocating for a shift in control. After the state went so far as to close the park while citing a lack of funding, an agreement finally came together on November 12, 1968 to provide for a shift in maintenance responsibilities to the Greene County Conservation Board. With the transition, Spring Lake Park got a new lease on life as workers repaved roads, electrified and improved shelters, and built a new residence for live-in conservation officer. In 1987, a new shelter on the east side of the park started to welcome gatherings large and small. Also during the 1980s the park started to play host to many cross country meets for area schools.


Work continued over the decades including a major project in the early 2000s to improve and modernize restroom and shower facilities for campers, while an enlargement of the camping area improved options of the east side of the lake, bringing the number of total campsites from 33 to 123. The project also saw the construction of rental cabins. Maintenance and renovation of the indoor skating rink, installation of playground equipment, addition of a frisbee golf course, and paving of a basketball court all added to the diversity of amenities at the park. In 2014, the construction of an additional cabin further added to the overnight options at the park.


Today, Spring Lake Park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in central Iowa.  Folks still let the good times roll at the skating rink which dates pack to the park’s resort era, while Iowans continue to enjoy cooling off at the lake during the state’s summer months. A variety of picnic shelters, trails, and other amenities provide great opportunities to pass a pleasant afternoon. The large, moder campground and cabins offer quality options for those hoping to spend the night.


Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Spring Lake 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, Spring Lake Park shines as a must visit for all people hoping to see Iowa Slowly.


Thanks for coming along with notes on Iowa to explore what used to be Spring Lake 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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