116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Time Machine: Scenic Echo Valley emerged as state park in 1930s
Eight men and two teams of horses worked for a week in August 1932 to turn Glover’s Creek — in Fayette County near West Union — into a good trout stream.
The following year, in December, a 73-acre tract 2 miles east of West Union, which included parts of Glover’s Creek and Otter Creek, was bought on option to develop a lake and resort.
The land had been Cyrus and Mary Mastin Glover Gurdy’s property for 80 years and included a mill, a mill race and an old lime kiln.
Another 30 acres was added and the land designated as a state park, with the state Conservation Board accepted the 110 acres as a state preserve in April 1934. E.R. Ballard was named park custodian April 14.
Making a park
It was during the Great Depression, and the Civil Works Administration -- a New Deal jobs program replaced by the Civilian Conservation Corps -- hired 26 workers to clear brush and trash from the park.
Fayette County Engineer A.D. Finch requisitioned fencing and brought in lumber, cement and hardware from the CWA in Des Moines to build a 300-foot-long log and rock dam on Otter Creek.
The number of CWA workers increased to 100 in November to complete the dam. Stone for riprap was taken from the old stone quarry in the park and the surrounding bluffs.
The resulting 11-acre lake, 15 feet deep at its deepest point, was stocked with fish by the Iowa Fish and Game Commission.
A state landscape engineer designed a road running from the west park entrance to a parking lot on the park’s east side.
The project was nearing completion at the end of 1934 when the lake opened for ice skating, and, in the spring, for picnicking, camping, swimming and boating.
Finding a name
The park still had no official name in December 1935, but the area already was called Echo Valley.
“It seems proper to select as a part of the name the feature which makes the area distinctive for this park or preserve as it may be designated later,” the Fayette County Union newspaper editorialized. “The echo, repeated three times, lends great charm and interest to this entire park.”
Winter sports, fishing
Established as a game refuge in January 1936, Echo Valley State Park quickly became a favorite spot for winter sports. It had a long sledding hill that ended on the ice-covered end of the lake. It also attracted ice skaters, and lights were installed to allow night skating.
West Union residents rushed to the park in July 1936 to put out a grass fire that scorched more than 2 acres of grass and some trees. Their help prevented the loss of the native cedars along the park’s 70-foot rock ridge.
The first fishing season at the Echo Valley lake was June 15 to Nov. 30, 1938, after the lake had been stocked with crappies, bluegills and both large and small mouth bass the year before. The daily limit was a dozen fish per day.
In April 1939, the Echo Valley Future Farmers of America began planting 1,500 trees in the park. It was believed to be the first time that an FFA chapter had done a tree planting in the state.
Years take toll
By 1958, the lake had silted in, and the dam had washed out. The lake was gone, the grass was unmowed.
But nature lovers still found peaceful serenity in the park. Near the park entrance, an access road was built in 1963 so fishermen could access Glover’s Creek, which was stocked with trout.
The State Conservation Commission proposed closing Echo Valley, along with 13 other small state parks, in May 1968 because of a lack of funds. That decision was reversed less than a week later after public protest.
The commission transferred the park to its lands and waters division, effectively keeping the park open but not providing any money for upkeep.
After a steady decline over the next decade, visitors noted the neglect and vandalism.
Don Menken, executive director of the Clayton County Conservation Board, and Jane Miehe, work coordinator for the Youth Conservation Corps, worked with park custodian Harry Hunter to bring 32 YCC members to the park to clear brush, paint shelter houses and do general clean up.
A prison crew working in the Yellow River Forest was enlisted to repair the pavilion that had been built by the Civil Works Administratoin in the 1930s.
Although technically a state park, Echo Valley has been maintained by Fayette County ever since.
By 2002, farmer Richard Jensen spent time and money to develop the Jensen Hiking Trail on an old 1890 railroad right of way that runs through his property and into Echo Valley.
In 2003, the Natural Resource Commission added187 acres of land next to Echo Valley, using a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That grant gave the federal government an interest in the park, meaning the state can’t sell any part of it without federal permission.