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Tucked away in the southeast corner of the state, Lacey-Keosauqua is a bit of a hidden surprise in itself. But do you know about these other hidden gems, as suggested by park manager Justin Pedretti?
A close second
Just behind Backbone, Iowa’s first state park dedicated in 1920, Lacey-Keosauqua opened its gates in 1921 as Big Bend State Park. The park’s name got a refresh in 1926 to honor after John Fletcher Lacey, who was instrumental in creating Iowa's State Park system.
Lost in Iowa
You won’t find a major city nearby, but the 1,653-acre park full of beautiful large white oak forest sits right in the middle of the Villages of Van Buren county. When you’ve thoroughly explored the park, take on the villages, which offer lots of small-town charm and attractions.
Often seen in magazines, few visitors know that they can hike to see the park’s small waterfall in person. Just go past the CCC quarry site up Wesley Creek a short distance – after a good rainfall – and you’ll hear it close by.
A strong foundation
From two stone lodges to stone silt check dams along the 2.1-mile Lake Trail, Lacey-Keosauqua is a showplace for 46 historic structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and 1940s. You can still see the stone’s original home in the park – the quarry along Wesley Creek.
Take the scenic route
Since the park’s a must-see stop in the fall as the forest colors change, make a point to hit the Annual Scenic Drive Festival (second full weekend of October). There’s also a Buckskinners camp at the Ely Ford picnic area and a 5/10K Run and Walk through the park.
Get those steps in
From the Beachhouse Lodge (another CCC structure) parking lot, it looks like nothing but forest behind the lodge. Head behind the lodge and make the 147-step trek down to the small beach on 22-acre Lake Lacey.
Blaze a trail
Follow the River Trail along the entire length of the park as you take in the Des Moines River, the park’s boundary. Make sure to stop at the historical marker of Ely Ford Crossing, noting the location of the Great Mormon Trek westward in the mid-1800s.
Not only is there the beauty of Lacey-Keosauqaua, but the great fishing at nearby Lake Sugema, outstanding hiking at Shimek State Forest and hunting at Shimek and the Lake Sugema Recreation Area. These thousands of acres of public land with minimum development makes the area special for all wildlife and attracts hunters from all over the United States.
Including burial grounds, there are 15 documented archaeological sites recorded within the state park. Those include evidence that Native Americans lived in these bluffs overlooking the Des Moines River between 2,500 to 1,000 years ago.
Not so sweet
This park was once a battlefield of sorts. When Van Buren County was carved out of the larger Des Moines County in 1834, a boundary was not clearly defined. The Governor of Missouri sent his agents to collect taxes from residents of Van Buren County, and it was not well-received by Iowans, as most refused to pay. Before the agents left the vicinity, they chopped down bee trees in what is now Lacey-Keosauqua State Park and extracted the honey for partial payment of taxes. Read more from the plaque at the park’s lodge in memory of "The Honey War."