Located just northwest of the Iowa Great Lakes and adjacent to the town of Lake Park in Dickinson County, a 57.5-acre State Park holds natural and historic treasures.
Come along with Notes on Iowa, as we explore Trappers Bay State Park.
Situated along the north shore of Silver Lake and surrounding Trappers Bay, the postage-stamp sized state park boasts diverse flora and fauna. Attracting hunters and trappers long before American settlement, locals credit Iowa’s Indigenous populations with naming Silver Lake. Early settler R.A. Smith recorded the area now encompassed within the park served as a popular village site for the Indigenous peoples of the area prior to American settlement.
The 1,041 acre glacial lake dominates the park, and the Iowa Conservation Commission oversaw the purchase of lands for the state from local woman May Shriner during 1933. Civilian Conservation Corps Company 778 worked on the initial development of the park, constructing a primitive shelter, working on shoreline improvement, and providing road work.
In December of 1935 the local paper announced the State Conservation Commission had settled on naming the park “Trappers Bay.” In 1936 the state officially placed jurisdiction of Trappers Bay under the guidance of nearby Gull Point State Park.
In early May of 1937, local officials set out to find a joint custodian of the Lake Park City Park and Trappers Bay, and after reviewing six received applications the city park commissioners hired J.C. Read as the park’s first custodian.
The Lake Park Commercial Club helped with funding for early park projects including improvements on the north shore of the lake in 1938. Additionally, the Lake Park News reported the state planned to make “a real shelter house” out of a preexisting supported roof by constructing walls and a fireplace.
The project continued to draw attention from newspaper editors and local groups like the Commercial Club into 1940. During November of that year the Lake Park News announced a National Youth Administration group of twelve local youths would work to enclose the shelter and construct the fireplace.
In 1941 a public call went out for the 96 tons of rocks needed to complete the project, and after local frustrations mounted with the pace of the project, officials hired local contractor Jacob Jacobsen to complete the project by the close of the summer. With the shelter completed in August, work on the park largely halted.
By the late 1940s and early 1950s area newspapers report mainly on pleasant picnics along the lake shore or Kids’ Fish Day and other such events. Over 300 kids participated in the inaugural Kids’ Fish Day, and each took home at least two prizes in addition to fond memories of the day.
During the late-1960s the state experimented with allowing overnight camping in the park, and also planned to undertake the first large-scale dredging of Trappers Bay. By 1970 local fishermen were back to snagging large catches from the bay, like the 32 inch. Northern caught by Forrest Blair in June of that year.
Still a popular spot for fishing and camping into the 1980s, the park discontinued the campground by 1992. Over the course of the decade the Iowa Department of Natural Resources struggled budgetarily, in May of 2001 the Dickinson County News notified readers the state considered shutting down Trappers Bay. Eventually, officials decided to scale-back maintenance on the parks threatened by the shortfall and ultimately keep them open.
Today, Trappers Bay State Park offers visitors several amenities. Featuring a boat ramp and several shoreline opportunities for anglers to test the waters, populations of walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass, white bass, perch, bluegills, crappies, catfish, and bullheads lurk beneath the surface of the bay. Quality bird watching awaits interested ornithology enthusiasts, and a variety of other wildlife occupy the lands stretching between and around Trappers Bay and Silver Lake. Although camping is not allowed, many enjoy picnics at the historic shelter house.
Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Trappers Bay 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, Trappers Bay shines as a must visit for all people hoping to see Iowa Slowly.
Thanks for coming along with notes on Iowa to explore Trappers Bay State Park.
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I hope I’ll see you out there!