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State Park Series - Ambrose A. Call State Park

Perched atop the geographically unique Algona End Moraine in Kossuth County, a history rich 138-acre State Park holds natural and historic treasures.

Come along with Notes on Iowa, as we explore Ambrose A. Call State Park.

Located just south of Algona on a rugged stretch of timbered lands stretching up to form the Algona End Moraine geographical formation, the parks history begins well-before Americans arrived in the area. The Algona End Moraine, a glacial landscape featuring a sweeping ridge, cuts across five counties. The place where glaciers halted while pushing south to form the Des Moines Lobe, the steep hills on which the park rests exist as accumulated deposits cut by the Des Moines River’s East Fork.

Iowa’s Indigenous peoples also occupied the area, including Wahpekute Dakota leader Inkpaduta. The first American arrivals in the area recorded several interactions with various Dakota leaders, and the year prior to the 1857 outbreak of violence in Spirit Lake, park namesake Ambrose A. Call. After a tense confrontation, Inkpaduta agreed to leave the area when several of his band members returned from an elk hunt.

How the park came to bear the name Ambrose A. Call ties back to the earliest American History in the northwestern part of the state. Originally from Ohio, Ambrose and his brother Asa, set out from Marengo taking turns riding a horse bought from a quaker to establish a town on the Des Moines River. Arriving July 10, 1854, the older Asa said to his younger brother: “Ambrose, I believe this is the place for our city. We will build the courthouse right here.” Their initial cabin site, although not the original cabin, stands within the park today.

The Call’s left behind a trove of documents related to their experiences founding the seat of Kossuth County, and Ambrose’s eldest daughter Florence deserves much credit for the creation of the park. An active contributor to the historical materials available relating to early Kossuth County, Florence Call Cowles wrote a 221-page text relating the family’s experiences called “Early Algona” for the town’s Diamond Jubilee in 1929.

Aside from scholarly contributions, Florence married Algona Superintendent of Schools Gardner Cowles in 1884 before he went on to co-own and help build the “Des Moines Register and Leader.” As plans got underway for a park site on the initial Call claim, Florence Call Cowles donated $3,000 in lands and financial contributions and spearheaded an effort to create the park in the mid-1920s. Although the park opened to the public on the initial Call lands in 1926, the “Kossuth County “Advance” noted on January 27th 1927, an additional $205 of the necessary $7260 to complete the purchase needed to still come together. Local clubs helped to raise the funds. In August 1927, Paul Willie started work as the park’s caretaker. Critical to developing the five miles of trails within the park with the aid of first Civilian Conservation Corps workers, and later German Prisoners of War hosed in Algona during WWII, Willie served for nearly two decades at Ambrose Call.

On Monday, July 15, 1929, over 2000 people turned out to witness a dedication of the park featuring a performance by the Algona Municipal Band and speeches from notable politicians.

An early entrant into the Iowa State Parks system, the park saw minor development during the 1920s. However, a unique peeled-log lodge. Citing daily visitor numbers in the hundreds, the “Advance” called for “a thing badly needed is a shelter spot for the park.” A few months later the “Algona Upper Des Moines” reported construction underway on June 27, 1928 on a 64’6” by 89’10 oak shelter wrapped by a twelve foot deep porch on three sides and featuring a “fire place, ladies rest room, and other accommodations…” The peeled-log structure originally designed by John R. Fitzsimmons of Ames underwent restoration efforts first in 1998, and again in 2019. The lodge exists as a treasured reminder of the early Iowa Parks system.

Although the park stands small in stature at just 135-acres, it packs great diversity of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. An authentic log cabin, built by early settler August Zahlten in 1855, has stood in the park since June of 1929. Not ever a residence, the cabin served as a granary prior to arriving at the park. The first state park in Iowa to construct a frisbee golf course, the park has hosted disc golf players since the 1980s. Additionally, the park features over five miles of diverse and challenging trails, as well as a non-modern campground with several electric sites await visitors to the park.

Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Ambrose A. Call 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, Ambrose A. Call 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 Ambrose A. Call State Park.

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