Stretching the border between Cedar Falls and Waterloo along the Cedar River, a beautiful 1,200 acre state park holds natural and historic treasures.
Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore George Wyth State Park.
Sandwiched between Highway 218 and the Cedar, the park features a floodplain forest woven around the 38-acre Fisher Lake and the 51-acre George Wyth Lake.
The first American settlers of the area, William and Nancy Fisher, settled on the site during 1853. Raising a family consisting of five daughters and four sons, the Fisher’s officially purchased 45 acres of lands from the state in 1875. Prone to seasonal flooding on the Cedar River, the area proved difficult to farm.
Famed Iowa champion of conservation George Wyth, cofounder of the Viking Pump Company of Cedar Falls, conceived of creating a state park on the site during the 1920s. Serving on the Iowa State Board of Conservation from 1927 to 1935, Wyth watched as the early Iowa State Parks system developed. Not until Wyth left the board in 1938 did plans for a park featuring Fisher Lake and a former channel of the Cedar River start to come together.
Initially a 175-acre scenic parkway linking Cedar Falls and Waterloo named for a fictional radio character of some repute named Josh Higgins, local officials dedicated the parkway in 1940.
Quickly locals learned the parkway idea proved infeasible due to the same flooding which plagued the Fisher farm, and the state continued to add on to a parcel which grew from 175 acres to 400 with the help of local philanthropists including George Wyth. Following death of Wyth in 1955, Cedar Falls officials successfully petitioned the Iowa Conservation Commission to rename the park to George Wyth State Park the following year.
Perhaps no park within Iowa has a more diverse history of public lands development when compared with George Wyth. Continued growth of Cedar Falls and Waterloo as important transportation route targets led to the development of Highway 57 and Interstate 380 both necessitated land from the park. Fill dirt dug from the park helped form the highways, resulting in the formation of three lakes in the pits left behind. George Wyth Lake opened first in 1974, East Lake (now Brinker Lake) opened in 1989, and Alice Wyth Lake opened in 1994.
Home to large stands of red cedar trees, as well as rare species of plants of animals, George Wyth offers an oasis in the midst of several snarled Iowa highways built from the park’s soil. An incredible bird-watching opportunity, enthusiasts have recorded over 180 different species of birds in the park. Stands of reestablished prairie also provide a home for a diverse plant and animal life.
A popular spot with fishermen, largemouth bass proliferate in George Wyth Lake, and anglers also net a variety of fish on the park’s other lakes and on the Cedar River. Camping enthusiasts find comfort at the 64-unit campground featuring modern restrooms and showers.
Three miles of paved trails, and an additional ten miles of groomed unpaved trails. A bird blind helps visitors contribute to the catalog of birds seen at the park, and four open shelters provide for picnics and other events. A beach on George Wyth lake also welcomes visitors during the warmer months of the year.
Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at George Wyth 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, George Wyth shines as a must visit for all people hoping to see Iowa Slowly.
Thanks for coming along with notes on Iowa to explore George Wyth State Park.
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