Tucked in alongside Big Spirit Lake in Dickinson County’s Iowa Great Lakes chain, a 10-acre state recreation area holds natural and historic treasures.
Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Templar State Recreation Area.
One of the newest entries into Iowa’s public land when compared with many parks, preserves, and state recreation areas, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources purchased the postage stamp sized park in 1987. Hoping to provide improved lake access on the west shore of Big Spirit, the state’s interest in the land developed because of the presence of small bay. Acquiring the lands from the Knights Templar, the park’s name acknowledges the long history of the fraternal organization at the site.
The Knights Templar, a Catholic military organization dating back to a Jerusalem founding at Mount Temple in 1119, established a meeting ground at the site during August of 1890. Even prior to the meeting the Milford Mail reported “The committee will also take under advisement the matter of the grounds at Templar Point at Spirit Lake.” The account relays the rough shape of the grounds, and how the gathered Knights Templar looked forward to spending time at the undeveloped wilderness site along the lake.
After a successful first conclave at the site, work went into improving Templar Park over the course of the 1890s. By 1891 the Spirit Lake Beacon reported on plans for a large, two-story building to help accommodate future meetings at the site. However, locals fretted after the 1892 conclave was announced for Dubuque. However, their fears were ill-founded, and the ground continued to hold meetings, events, and other gatherings at the park for decades.
A windstorm destroyed the first building in 1898, and the Templar’s decided to rebuild and expand facilities at the site. By the following year the Spirit Lake Beacon boasted of the wonderful new facilities at the park. For almost 70 years, Templar Park continued to develop into one of the best vacation resort facilities in Iowa. Even after the primary hotel burned to the ground in 1917, an even grander hotel followed. Featuring over 100-rooms, the hotel hosted the annual Grand Conclave for much of the twentieth century. Open to the Knights Templar exclusively for the first-half of the 20th century, newspaper reports from 1964 announced the opening of the facility to the general public.
However, although initial enthusiasm led to good occupancy, maintenance and legal troubles led to an uncertain future for the Templar property by the 1970s. Many individuals rallied to try to save the hotel through various efforts including a successful nomination of the hotel the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. The following year the hotel site was sold to a developer and demolished.
By the 1980s, the owners proved ready to sell part of the popular resort property to the Iowa DNR. By September of 1987 the state purchased the site and unveiled plans to restore the stairs to the lake, construct a dock, and put up two gazebos overlooking the lake. A large parking lot adjacent to the boat ramp, as well as a small set-aside wildlife management area.
Today, Templar State Recreation Area offers visitors one of the most popular boat ramps on Big Spirit, where protected lagoon offers a safe harbor for launch on even the windiest days. Ground-bound anglers find quality access from the dock or along the shoreline. Small prairie restorations and adjacent woodlands allow for limited bird watching and wildlife viewing.
Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Templar State Recreation Area. A truly stunning representation of Iowa’s natural beauty and a testament to the necessity of maintaining opportunities to get outdoors for all Iowans, Templar Recreation Area shines as a must visit for all people hoping to see Iowa Slowly.
Thanks for coming along with notes on Iowa to explore Lake of Templar State Recreation Area.
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I hope I’ll see you out there!