In 2020 and 2021, IowaWatch focused on the state parks system, sending reporters to visit more than 50 of the parks. We learned a lot during those visits as well as finding some beautiful spots. Here’s a quiz over a handful of these parks and some of their history.

1. Question: What Iowa State Park features an old dam circa 1936 spanning across the Cedar River? 

Olivia Allen / IowaWatch. Photo taken July 9, 2021.

Answer: Palisades-Kepler State Park in Mount Vernon, Iowa. The dam was originally built at 8 feet tall and lies 780 feet across the Cedar River. After its approval in 1934, the dam was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps with the goal of creating lake-like recreation waters available for park guests. Unfortunately, the Cedar River’s strength impeded the construction and repair of the dam until it was washed away in spring of 1959 — leaving the structure’s remains for hikers to view while hiking Palisade-Kepler’s 840 acres. 

2. Question: Which Iowa state park is home to the southernmost glacial lake in the United States? 

Olivia Allen / IowaWatch. Photo taken July 2021.

Answer: Black Hawk State Park in Lake View, Iowa. This natural lake spans 957 acres and is home to the annual Lake View Water Carnival in July and Arctic Open golf event in February. Park guests can swim in the beautiful waters at the Thirty Acres campground swimming beach and Crescent Beach. 

3. Question: Which Iowa state park is named after a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist? 

Olivia Allen / IowaWatch. Photo taken July 6, 2021.

Answer: Lake Darling State Park in Brighton, Iowa, named after Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling. Darling began his reporting career in the Sioux City Journal in 1900. Throughout his career, he worked for the Des Moines Register, Leader, the New York Globe and the New York Herald Tribune. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1924 and 1943. He is also known as an important figure in the conservation movement; one of his most notable conservation achievements was in 1934, when President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him to a blue-ribbon committee on wildlife restoration. 

John Naughton / IowaWatch. Photo taken Sept. 7, 2020.

4. Question: Which Iowa state park contains areas where the Sac, Fox, Sioux and Winnebago tribes used to hold their councils? 

 Answer: Areas surrounding Dancehall Cave in Maquoketa Caves State Park in Maquoketa, Iowa, used to serve as council meeting spaces for Native American tribes living in the area. In 1832, the Black Hawk Purchase land acquisition forced the tribes out of the area. The Black Hawk Purchase turned over approximately 6 million acres of Native American land to the United States government. 

5. Question: What Iowa state park is named after a revered Potawatomi chief and translates to “Break of Day?” 

Olivia Allen / IowaWatch. Photo taken June 28, 2021.

Answer: Waubonsie State Park in Hamburg, Iowa, is named after Chief Waubonsie, who is well-known for his presence during several treaties, like the 1826 Treaty of Wabash and the 1832 Treaty of Chicago. His original settlement was called “Waubon” and was located in what is now Aurora, Ill. The tribe resided there until the Potawatomi were removed from Illinois to Iowa and Kansas — a trip of approximately 700 miles. 

6: Question: Which Iowa state park is located in what is considered to be a “ghost town?”

Olivia Allen / IowaWatch. Photo taken July 2021.

Answer: Preparation Canyon State Park in Pigsah, Iowa. The 344 acre-state park lies on what used to be the small town of Preparation, Iowa. Preparation was founded in 1853 by a Latter Day Saint group led by Charles B. Thomson, who broke from the Utah-bound Mormon Trail. The town was named after the community’s belief that life on Earth was a preparation for the afterlife. Though the town had nearly disappeared by the 1900s, it once held 67 houses, a school, newspaper, post office, skating rink and blacksmith shop. 

7. Question: Which Iowa state park is home to the largest stand of black walnut trees in North America? 

Olivia Allen / IowaWatch. Photo taken July 2021.

Answer: True to its name, the answer is Walnut Woods State Park in West Des Moines, Iowa. These preserved woods are the perfect habitat for a plethora of bird species; in fact, over 90 bird species have been seen throughout Walnut Woods State Park, including flycatchers, warblers, hawks and owls.

8. Question: What Iowa state park is home to the oldest working grist mill between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains? 

Submitted photo courtesy of

Answer: Wildcat Den State Park in Muscatine, Iowa. Pine Creek Grist Mill was built by Muscatine County’s first official resident, Benjamin Nye, in 1848. The Mill isn’t the only historic structure featured in Wildcat Den State Park; the Melpine Schoolhouse is a one-room schoolhouse built in Montpelier Township in the early 1800’s. It was moved to Wildcat Den State Park in the 1960s. 

 9. Question: Which Iowa state park features cabins built through President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA)?

Olivia Allen / IowaWatch. Photo taken June 22, 2021.

Answer: Pine Lake State Park in Eldora, Iowa, features four stone and timber cabins built in the mid-1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and WPA. The WPA was a New Deal employment and infrastructure program that began in 1935 as an effort to lift the country from the Great Depression. During the WPA’s eight years, it employed approximately 8.5 million people. 

10. Question: Which Iowa state park is home to the largest ADA accessible playground in the state?

John Naughton / IowaWatch. Photo taken in summer 2020.

Answer: Lake Manawa State Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa, features the 18,000 square foot “Dream Playground” — the largest inclusive playground in Iowa. The playground was originally built in the 1990s; in 2017, around 1,800 local children submitted drawings for the playground’s “Re-Imagined Project.” The children’s drawings inspired the $1.3 million renovations that brought the renewed Dream Playground to life. It was completed in 2018.

Sources by question: 1. Cedar Rapids Gazette; 2. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources; 3. Iowa PBS; 4. Friends of Maquoketa State Park Facebook Page; 5. Indian Prairie School District 204 – Waubonsie Valley High School; 6. Iowa DNR, A History of the Origin of the Place Names Connected with the Chicago & North Western and Chicago; 7. Iowa DNR; 8. Iowa DNR, Visit Muscatine; 9.  Iowa DNR,; 10. Unleash Council Bluffs

This project, Iowa’s State Parks, is a partnership between IowaWatch – the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism and the Iowa Newspaper Foundation with the goal of looking closely at one of Iowa’s most valued resources (especially in the last year): the state parks system.

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