Situated among the busy shores of the Iowa Great Lakes Region in Dickinson County, a peaceful 80-acre state park holds natural and historic treasures.
Come along with Notes on Iowa, as we explore Elinor Bedell State Park.
One of the newest parks in the Iowa State Parks system, Elinor Bedell State Park only entered Iowa’s public lands in 1998.
After a dormant period where Iowa did not open a new state park for over two decades, efforts came together to create a park on East Okoboji Lake following a donation of lands from former United States Representative for Iowa’s 6th Congressional District, Berkley Bedell, and his wife Elinor during 1998. During August of 1998, the Bedell’s deeded over the land to the state in special ceremony featuring Iowa Governor Terry Branstad.
The couple originally purchased the lands in the 1950s in the hopes it might one day become a state park, leading Elinor Bedell to reflect “The way they (the DNR) have made this park is exactly what we had in mind” at the time of the park’s 2001 dedication and opening.
During the three years between donation and opening to the public, many projects took place at the site. Although some critics decried the conversion of the natural habitat to park space, proponents of the park suggested by moving the lands into the State Parks system the lands would avoid the potential development experienced by many areas throughout the Iowa Great Lakes Region.
To develop the park, the state initially appropriated $758,000 for the construction of modern restrooms, a picnic shelter, and a playground. Funds also helped establish a modern campground. Additionally, crews worked to initially establish over a mile in trails while also reconstructing diverse habitat representative of landscapes once commonly found around East Okoboji Lake.
Americorps volunteers stationed at nearby Fort Defiance in Estherville worked to construct a trail along East Okoboji Lake by using railroad ties during the restoration work. Crews also placed on emphasis on reconstructing prairie, oak savannah, and wetland habitats throughout the park space. Angela Corio, DNR landscape architect designed the park to take visitors on a two-mile loop through the diverse habitats native to early Iowa.
Local efforts came together to provide support and purpose behind the playground project for the park. Named in honor of Shelby Duis, a two-year old killed in 2000 after suffering severe child abuse, the Iowa Great Lakes Rotary raised tens of thousands of dollars for the park. Still a prominent feature of the park today, the specially designed park from two to five year old children, allows children to experience the joys denied to young Shelby Duis.
In July of 2002, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation purchased an additional 670 acres adjoining the park on the northeast corner. Meant to help provide a buffer for the lake in the hopes of improving area water quality, the lands also offer additional wildlife habitat.
Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Elinor Bedell 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, Elinor Bedell 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 Elinor Bedell State Park.
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