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Woodman Hollow State Preserve - Notes on Iowa State Park Series, Episode 86

Located along the Des Moines River just south of Fort Dodge in Webster County, a 63.5-acre former state park holds natural and historic treasures.


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


Centered around a Pennsylvanian Period, Floris Formation sandstone ridge cut by a small spring-fed creek, Woodman’s Hollow hallow harkens back to the distant past of Iowa. Heavily forested with a natural canopy consisting of natural hardwood trees, dendrochonological work at the site dated some trees to in excess of three hundred years of age. Woodman’s Hollow also hosts one of Iowa’s most unique collections of ferns. Ostrich fern, spleenwort, woodsia, bladder fern, rock-break fern, maidenhair, bulbet fern, and other species flank the canyon walls and surrounding terrain. Scientists working at the site over the past hundred years have recorded 354 different native vascular plants species, as well as 142 species of mosses, liverworts, and hornworts. Archeological evidence, most notably two Woodland period stone shelters, display clear evidence of Indigenous occupation at the site during the era prior to American arrival in Iowa. The discovery of human remains during 1892 also further documented human inhabitation of the site.


During the initial phase of land acquisition for Iowa’s state park system during the 1920s, officials negotiated for the tract of land containing Woodman’s Hollow during 1920, making the site one of the first obtained. Purchased from A.S. Woodman, initial development at the site focused on turning the lands into a state park. However, shortly after purchase, Central State Electric Company sought approval to dam the Des Moines River just downstream from Woodman’s Hollow. The proposed dam would create a reservoir and flood the canyon. A battle ensued, pitting the Iowa State Board of Conservation and local residents against the power company. The Iowa Conservation Commission declared Woodman’s Hollow “a reserve for the full protection of plant and animal life therein,” and ultimately pushed the proposed dam further upstream toward Fort Dodge.


The New Deal saw the only significant amenity development in Woodman Hollow’s history. With federal funds, Works Progress Administration labor allowed for the construction of stone latrines and trial work. With the nearby Dolliver Memorial State Park undergoing significant development to provide camping and other recreational opportunities, Woodman’s Hollow remained largely undeveloped in comparison.


Officially dedicated as Iowa’s first scientific and biological state preserve on August 12, 1970, Woodman’s Hollow largely reverted to a natural state. Closure of the access road eliminated easy access, and limited visitors to hiking into the preserve from a small parking area. Ferns and other plants overgrew the stone latrines, and the trails faded into the forest leaving visitors to try and discern the best course to take when navigating the forest.


Today, Woodman Hollow State Preserve offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in northwestern Iowa.  Set aside for the biological preservation of the various plants and animal life present at the site, visitors must exercise caution to not disturb or negatively impact the ecology of the site. Limited trails offer rugged access for visitors hoping to see Iowa at it’s wildest.


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