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Viking Lake State Park - Notes on Iowa State Park Series, Episode 58

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

Although the significance of the geographic landscape encompassed by Viking Lake stretches well into Iowa’s prehistoric and Indigenous past, the plans for a park at the site developed alongside an initiative by the Iowa Conservation Commission during 1947 to create more lake-based outdoor recreation opportunities for Iowans. With the state already mulling potential sites for a lakes, the people of Montgomery County stepped up to advocate for a local project. As early as 1945 representatives of the state conservation office arrived in the area to assess a series of potential lake sites. Led by the Montgomery County Conservation League and local legislators, the state identified and approved a site along Dunn’s Creek for potential damming. The steeply sloping landscape offered an ideal location to locate a dam as local newspapers published maps in 1949, but the project initially stalled due to lack of funding as the state sought to build eight dams across the state. In November of 1950, an Iowa legislative committee deferred action on allotting $15,000 for the proposed lake. However, the following May, the project picked up momentum when funding approval made it to the governor’s desk.

For years locals waited for the land acquisition process to get underway, and starting in 1953 the state started buying parcels for the lake site. While prepping for construction, workers inadvertently uncovered a wealth of Indigenous artifacts. Construction again temporarily stalled as the state determined what to do with the remains and artifacts uncovered at the site. However, construction on the dam soon commenced in 1956. Construction on the concrete control gate and earthwork dam cost the state $114,987. Initially known by locals as Stanton Lake of the Stanton lake project, the local newspaper decided to host a naming contest while workers toiled to build the dam. The paper, “The Stanton Viking,” couldn’t have known locals would settle on Viking Lake as the name of the new body of water which started to fill behind the completed dam and spillway during 1957. By October 13, 1957, the park proved ready for dedication. The state elected to keep with local wishes to honor the Scandinavian heritage of many area settlers and officially named the lake and adjoining state park Viking Lake as representatives of fifteen area communities attended the dedication ceremony. Construction of a custodian’s residence, boat ramps, jetties, trails, and a campground helped to ensure the amenities necessary for Iowans in the southwestern part of the state to enjoy Viking Lake to the fullest.

The park quickly proved popular, and by the late 1980s boasted annual attendance figures in excess of 200,000 annual visitors. However, by the early 1990s water quality at the small lake started to emerge as a potential concern. High bacteria levels and siltation, along with the emergence of non-desirable fish species led officials to consider taking action to ensure the continued enjoyment of the lake.

In the early 2000s, a large-scale projects helped to modernize the park. In 2003, after the completion of a major campground renovation, a rededication ceremony was held. In 2008, local man Brett Querry helped to build a scenic trail around the lake as a part of an Eagle Scout project. Later in the decade, a major undertaking to improve water quality awaited Viking Lake. In 2009 the restoration work officially completed and fish restocking helped to bring many people back to park.

Today, Viking Lake State Park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in southwestern Iowa. Over 8 miles of multi-use trails ring the lake welcoming hikers. A popular water-based recreation site for many people throughout southwestern Iowa, anglers enjoy testing the waters of the 136-acre from six jetties for bluegill, red-ear sunfish, and largemouth bass. A large, modern campground awaits those hoping to spend the night.

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