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Stone State Park - Notes on Iowa State Park Series, Episode 75

Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Stone State Park.

Located in the northern end of the Loess Hills, the park showcases the unique geology of windblown soils. Home to many distinct plant species more common in more westerly states, more than seventy species of wildflowers populate the park. Featuring exposures of Cretaceous limestone, examples of Dakota, Ganeros, and Green Horn formations occur within the park’s bounds. Boulders from the Kansan and Nebraskan glacial stages also add to the unique geology of Stone State Park.

A popular location with Iowa’s Indigenous peoples prior to American settlement, the lands now held within Stone State Park saw human inhabitation from a time immemorial. Also an area heavily trafficked by animals, and hunters took bison at the site as late as 1868. In 1895, real estate developer Daniel H. Talbot bought a large parcel along the Big Sioux River including today’s park. When the Panic of 1893 ruined Talbot, Sioux City banker Thomas Jefferson Stone bought the tract in 1895. The site saw development as a park by Edgar Stone during the early 1900s. After Edgar’s death in 1911, his wife Lucia donated the lands to Sioux City in 1912. The city purchased additional lands from Edgar’s sister, Alice, and started to further develop the 365-acre park.

During the city park era, Stone gained fame for a zoo which included bears. Additional plans never realized called for a fish hatchery, golf course, and tennis courts. While a popular city park during the early 1900s, the city sold the property to the state during the Great Depression in 1935. New Deal Era workers, especially the Civilian Conservation Corps Camp 2275, left an indelible imprint on the newly named Stone State Park. Construction of picnic areas, camping facilities, park buildings, an ice-skating rink, and ski runs added to the available amenities at the site. Further work added the stone entrance portals, a stone-and-timber lodge representative of the CCC architectural style, and the Calumet picnic shelter complex.

During the late-1960s, a group of Navy men called the Seabee Division 9-25 helped to build bridges within the park. In 1973, the state spent $42,000 for the purchase of 90 acres of woodlands adjacent to the park, pushing the size of Stone to more than 900-acres. In 1985, the park invited the public to celebrate 50 years of Stone State Park in the Iowa State Parks system.

In 1992, the park unveiled the first biking trail within the park. Also during the 1990s, plans came together for the construction of the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center in the southern portion of the park. Opened in 1995, Woodbury County Conservation operates the center featuring exhibits focused on the unique geology of the Loess Hills.

A $137,000 grant obtained in 2004 helped to provide improvements to the park including modernization of camping facilities. In 2008, a donation of 160 acres of lands helped to further enlarge the footprint of Stone State Park. An additional land purchase further added to the state holding’s at Stone in 2013. Recent additions continue to add to the public lands at Stone State Park and Mt. Talbot State Preserve, making the area one of the largest contiguous stretches of natural lands in Iowa.

Today, Stone State Park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in northwestern Iowa. With over 15 miles of trails, the park features education interpretive panels along the Carolyn Benne Nature Trail while also offering options for hikers, bikers, and equestrian enthusiasts. Three camping cabins pair with a modern campground to provide quality lodgings for those hoping to spend the night. Three open shelters, including the Wahkaw ADA-accessible shelter, and the day-use lodge offer a variety of options for gatherings. The Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center provides opportunities to learn more about the natural history of northwestern Iowa.

Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Stone 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, Stone 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 Stone 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.

I hope I’ll see you out there!


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