Lake Iowa: A Look Back to the Beginning

Posted:1/13/2021 Iowa

Once farm ground and a bit of water named Pig Creek, Lake Iowa now encompasses 400 acres and has an 83-acre lake. The project began with the formation of the Iowa County Conservation Board in 1957 and took 7 years to come to fruition.  

The 5 original board members, which included D.T. White, Harold Schuerer, Floyd Faas, Wallace Smith and Carl Noel, scoured farm land in Iowa county to find the right spot for a park and lake. The board was approached by neighboring Benton County Conservation about joining their Hannen Lake project but board members had a larger project in mind. Board members canvassed local community members to see what features would be most appreciated. A fishing lake with picnic areas and a beach for swimming topped the list. The perfect spot would be found 6 miles south of Ladora, Iowa at what was then known as the Feine/Barber site.

The deeds for purchase of the 300+ acres were signed in April of 1959 and the Howard R. Green engineering firm was hired soon after to begin drawing up plans for the project. Two dam sites were proposed, one which would create a 60-acre lake and the second being down-stream a few rods which would help create a 90-acre lake. The latter location was chosen but a land swap was needed for a portion of the site.   The Stangland Brothers began clearing the land for Lake Iowa in 1961 and construction of the dam and spillway began the following year. Original estimates for a 90-acre lake were $157,762.00 but an additional $15,000.00 was paid to Great Lakes Pipe Line Co. to replace a gas pipe which would be located beneath the lake.  

In 1963 the lake was ready to be stocked with Large-mouth Bass and Crappies in the spring and Catfish, Bullheads and Red-eared Sunfish in the fall. A tractor was purchased and Roy Wiebold was hired as the first custodian. A local Boy Scout troop began planting some of the 3000 pine seedlings and 1200 various other trees in April of 1963.  

By the following year the park was ready for visitors and celebrated with a children's fishing derby on July 5th. Although the lake was not full an estimated 2000 bass and 2000 bullheads were caught. The campground had 50 campers that weekend. Board members were happy with the successful opening of the park but much work still needed to be done.  

In the next 10 years Lake Iowa would see 2 new custodians and many improvements including a residence for the custodian, several shelter houses and a bath house for the beach. Seasonal employees were hired at $1.75/hour.  

In 1977 a ski slope was built complete with heated building and tow line and was popular until it was dismantled in 1985 at the insistence of the insurance provider. Other memories from years past include tame geese and ducks that were brought to the lake and a rose garden. A deer named Rudolph, whose broken leg appears to be mended, is also mentioned in board meeting minutes.  

In the decades since Lake Iowa was excavated from acres of farm ground and a creek, the park has seen many changes. Structures have been built, torn down and replaced with new and improved buildings. Thousands of trees and shrubs have been planted, including the honeysuckle which is considered an invasive species today. The campground has grown and cabins have been built. The faces of those charged with its care have changed, too.  

Generations have spent summers at Lake Iowa. They have held family reunions there year after year and have learned new skills, caught their first fish and just enjoyed nature. While time may have changed the face of Lake Iowa, the need for a place to escape the drudgery or stress of daily life remains the same. The need may even be greater in these trying times. Lake Iowa was busting at the seams for most of 2020. It provided a welcome respite from daily newscasts and statistics.  

With the support of Iowa county citizens and the hard work of the board members and staff Lake Iowa will be a welcome respite for decades to come.