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Springbrook State Park - Notes on Iowa State Park Series, Episode 65

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

During the early era of Iowa State Park development, the Iowa Conservation Commission identified the location 5.5 miles west of Yale for a potential state park originally known as King’s Park. Located just east of the Middle Raccoon River, the park sits atop the dividing line between two of Iowa’s geographic landform regions: the Des Moines Lobe and the Southern Iowa Drift Plain. The point where the Wisconsin glacier skidded to a halt nearly 14,000 years ago, the geographic diversity of Iowa is on full display throughout the area.

The potential of locating a park came to the attention of the Iowa Conservation Commission through the efforts of the Guthrie Center Rotary Club during 1925. The group reached out to Louis Pammel, then head of the ICC, who came and inspected the site. In the meantime, locals kicked fundraising efforts into high gear, and residents of Panora, Jamaica, Bagley, Bayard, and Yale paired with Guthrie Center to raise funds for the purchase of 212-acres. On March 11, 1926, local newspapers reported “Guthrie County to Have a State Park.” On September 2, 1926, the locals officially deeded over the collectively held park site to the state. With the lands in hand, development started slowly. In September of 1928, Margo Frankel of the Iowa Conservation Commission visited the park and detailed several potential amenities including improved roads, picnic shelters, and the creation of a lake with bathhouse. Iowans soon started to arrive to enjoy the park, and in 1930 the location boasted over 11,000 visitors. Many of the visitors hoped to drop a line into the Middle Racoon or Springbrook Creek, and the state stocked fish repeatedly to help fortify aquatic populations in the area. Additionally, the state released four wild turkeys at the site during 1931 as a part of a broader effort to reintroduce the birds throughout the state.

On December 15, 1932, Guthrie Center Times announced the State Conservation Board officially changed the name of King State Park to Springbrook State Park. An additional land purchase of 100 acres of timbered lands offered better access to Springbrook stream. During the fall of 1933 the Civilian Conservation Corps arrived at Springbrook and established a camp. By the summer of 1934 the camp moved into full swing when over eighty new recruits arrived to work on a variety of projects within the park. By early 1935, the CCC completed construction on a dam, a bathhouse, a shelter house, eight cabins, and entrance portals for the park. The group additional completed trail work, habitat management, and several other projects which helped round out a full-slate of amenities. The park’s popularity kicked into full-effect over the late 1930s as large crowds gathered to enjoy swimming, camping, hiking, and picnics at the large and well-developed park.

In 1947, an appropriation of $17,000 from the Iowa General Assembly allowed for major renovations to take place at the park including an expansion of the group camping facilities, road work, and water quality measures including erosion control on the lake’s watershed. In 1950, the state installed three silt control dams above the lake to help further limit erosion concerns and lake siltation.

Following the renovations, a plan came together to locate the Iowa Teachers Conservation Camp at Springbrook. Run by the Iowa State Teachers College (now University of Northern Iowa), the program provided a summer program for teachers to earn college credits for courses focused on conservation. Starting in 1950, educators from throughout Iowa flocked to Springbrook to participate in the program which lasted through 1984. During the early years of the program the improved group camp facilities hosted the teachers, but group moved to a different part of the park with the construction of the Springbrook Conservation Education Center in 1971.

Starting in 1984, the park hosted a bicycling event called the Great Annual Springbook Peddle, or GASP for short. The popular event pitted bikers against Iowa’s early summer heat on a ride covering over forty miles while starting and ending at the park.

During the 1990s, the state again sought to address siltation and other water quality issues at the Springbrook lake. Although Governor Branstad’s office originally opposed the dredging plans, the governor reversed course during September of 1990 and gave the project the go-ahead. In May of 1991, Branstad personally celebrated the lake’s reopening with a ceremony attended by upwards of 250 people.

During the early 2000s campground renovations and improvements helped to ensure the continued popularity of the park. The project included the construction of a new campground store as an added amenity for those staying in the park.

Today, Springbrook State Park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in west-central Iowa. The park hosts over 12 miles of trails winding through diverse habitats. Fishing proves popular with anglers hoping to test the waters of the Middle Raccoon River or the park’s lake.

Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Springbrook 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, Springbrook State Park shines as a must visit for all people hoping to see Iowa Slowly. A variety of overnight options await at the park including a cabin, modern campground, and the Sherburne House. The beach continues to welcome swimmers hoping to cool off during Iowa’s summer months.

Thanks for coming along with notes on Iowa to explore Springbrook 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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