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State Park Series - Lake Macbride State Park

Just a few miles west of Solon in east central Iowa, an enjoyable 2,180-acre State Park holds one of the most unique state park stories in Iowa.

Come along with Notes on Iowa, as we explore Lake MacBride State Park.

Located just north of Iowa City in Johnson County, 1933 efforts headed up the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce and J.N. “Ding Darling” led to consideration of the wooded valleys along Mill Creek and Jordan Creek for state park status. Fundraising focused on selling off small, 75 acre lots on a peninsula which would stand over a lake created through damning the two creeks near their confluence with the Iowa River.

Pairing local initiative with the federally run Civilian Conservation Corps, built the dam, cleared brush, and worked to develop the park in a variety of other ways. Dedication of the park took place on May 30, 1934, but continued work by the CCC, as well as the Works Progress Administration, stalled the opening of the park to the public until June 15, 1937.

In the meantime, locals sent in hundreds of entries suggesting names for the new park. A person once described as starting “the campaign which resulted in our present state-park system,” University of Iowa Professor and Botanist Thomas H. MacBride provided a fitting epitath for the park close to the school. A fierce advocate of conservation and watershed protection, MacBride stands as an icon of the Iowa State Parks system.

Not even a decade after opening, MacBride faced a challenge from a developing US Army Corps of Engineers plan focused on constructing a flood-control dam on the Iowa River to protect Iowa City. Compromise between state and federal interests led to a decision focused on maintain MacBride as a separate body of water by reworking the dam design, emptying the lake of fish, and draining the water.

After several years of construction, crews completed work and refilled Lake MacBride in 1960. As the Army Corps of Engineers started finalizing their own Coralville Project, Lake MacBride State Park grew from roughly 140 acres to 900 acres in 1957 before again expanding to 2,180-acres familiar to visitors today.

Situated in an extensive network of nature opportunities which includes the companion MacBride Nature Recreation Area managed by the University of Iowa, the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Coralville Lake and recreation areas, as well as the Hawkeye Wildlife Management area, the park pulls visitors from across the state to enjoy its extensive beauty.

When running, the spillway stands out as a dominant feature of the park. Featuring Solon and Little Cedar Devonian formations, visitors marvel at the pairing of deep historical past paired with modern engineering. The dam itself holds back 900 acres of artificial lake.

Fishing proves a popular pastime throughout the park, and anglers catch bluegill, crappie, largemouth bass, channel catfish, walleye, hybrid striped bass, muskie and even the elusive Kentucky spotted pass. Seven boat ramps and a dozen jetties pair with shoreline access to provide angles ample opportunities to test the waters of Lake MacBride.

Day use shelters, a beach featuring various recreational non-motored boat rentals, and a modern campground provide great amenities for Iowans hoping to escape for a few quiet days between two of Iowa’s busiest cities.

Additionally, trails both inside and outside the park make getting around easy. A five-mile multiuse trail stretches out to neighboring Solon, as well as connects to the first the Hoover Nature Trail through Cedar Rapids and beyond to Cedar Falls through the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.

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

Thanks for coming along with notes on Iowa to explore Lake Macbride 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.


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