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White Pine Hollow - Notes on Iowa State Park Series, Episode 98

Located northwest of Dyersville in Dubuque County, a 708-acre state preserve and forest holds natural and historic treasures.


Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore White Pine Hollow State Preserve.


While pioneers plowed Iowa’s prairies and felled many of the state’s trees for cabins, furniture, fuel, and fenceposts, the native white pine trees at the site avoided the eager ax due to the difficulty of the terrain. Unique geological formations and dolomitic sandstone blocks provided a refuge for some of Iowa’s natural, sheltering the site from the conversion to agriculture which remade 98% of Iowa’s landscape.


As early as 1922, locals advocated for the lands at White Pine Hollow to remain protected. In June of that year Louis Pammell headed east from his office at Iowa State College in Ames to take a look at the site for potential inclusion in the Iowa State Park system. Never technically a state park, the lands constituting White Pine Hollow entered state control during the first decade of state lands acquisitions by the Iowa Conservation Commission. While other contrasting preserves in today’s system like Woodman’s Hollow near Fort Dodge initially entered as state parks before changing designations, White Pine Hollow’s story stands as relatively unique.


Starting in April 1933, Dubuque Senior High School’s Dr. Ross Harris brought together a group of local nature enthusiasts for form the Dubuque Conservation Society. The group set about identifying and discussing the preservation of specific local lands which might prove worth protecting. The group’s conversation ultimately settled on a tract of old-growth white pines in the western part of the county. The group soon worked out a plan to acquire 80-acres of the forest, and then handed the lands over to the Iowa Conservation Commission. The state accepted, holding the lands as White Pine Hollow Forest Reserve. Iowa Conservation Commission member G.B. MacDonald orchestrated $12,000 additional dollars for purchase of an additional 390-acres at the site from the State Emergency Conservation Fund over the course of 1935-1936. Seeking to establish forest ‘areas that demonstrate true conservation in the sense of proper use of the land and water,’ the lands represented a new experiment in public holdings in the Hawkeye state. Iowa’s first state forest acquisition, the lands stood in a strange limbo outside of the formal parks system.


In 1938, Iowa Governor Nelson G. Krashchel approved emergency funds to provide for ‘parking areas and other tourist accommodations with CCC labor,’ although it seems the work never came to fruition. During 1943, the state released four deer at the site raised at the state game farm near Ledges State Park in the hopes of reestablishing the animals at the site. Ten years later, in 1953, the state opened White Pine Hollow to bow hunting for deer. In 1961, the state approved $13,500 for purchase of additional lands and tree planting.


While other parcels of public lands across the state underwent significant development in the 1930s and 1940s, the forest reserve at White Pine Hollow stood in relatively ambiguous status. The state only formally created the state preserve designation under a 1965 legislative act approved by the Iowa Conservation Commission in May of 1968. During that year, eight sites came under the designation including White Pine Hollow. A time of change for an otherwise fairly changeless place, 1967 saw the National Park Service dedicate the site as a National Natural Landmark.


Due to the preserve status, development at White Pine Hollow never really took place. The site hosts 508 native plant species and 117 lichen species. Two small creeks merge within the park on their way to joining the Little Turkey River, creating unique habitat for a variety of life forms. Over the decades, researchers have gained valuable insights at White Pine Hollow by studying everything from plants, to snails, to birds. Unique among those who call White Pine Hollow home are several species of land snails who thrive in the cool air seeping from bedrock fissures in certain parts of the preserve. Buffered to the south and northeast by the White Pine Wildlife Management Area and the nearby Ram Hollow Wildlife Management Area, the park sits quietly tucked away in the eastern Iowa landscape.


Today, White Pine Hollow State Preserve offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in eastern Iowa. A small parking area and limited trails make up the formal amenities at White Pine Hollow. Those who enjoy catching a glimpse of Iowa as it may have been in the distant past find the enchantments of the preserve enticing. Wildlife and bird watching pairs with a chance to escape into an often overlooked part of the landscape. Trout fishermen enjoy testing the streams for fish.


Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at White Pine Hollow State Preserve. A truly stunning representation of Iowa’s natural beauty and a testament to the necessity of maintaining opportunities to get outdoors for all Iowans, White Pine Hollow State Preserve shines as a must visit for all people hoping to see Iowa Slowly.


Thanks for coming along with notes on Iowa to explore White Pine Hollow State Preserve.


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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