Consider this your save-the-date notice.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources will kick off a yearlong celebration of the centennial of the state park system at Backbone State Park south of Strawberry Point in Delaware County. The park was dedicated May 28, 1920.
“So that means we’re going to have a centennial celebration at Backbone State Park on May 28, 2020,” said Todd Coffelt, Iowa DNR Parks, Forests and Preserves Bureau chief. Preliminary plans call for a weekend of activities for Backbone visitors.
“They’ll be led on hikes. There will be interpretation efforts and hands-on activities” such as rock climbing and trout fishing, as well as learning the history of the state park system, Coffelt said.
“Our mission is to celebrate, connect and inspire folks to remember what 100 years of state parks is like and the value they provide to their quality of life,” he said.
The Iowa DNR has made improvements at Backbone a priority “because it’s 100 years old and people will be coming back,” he said.
“That park really is our flagship, and a lot of people from everywhere go there,” Coffelt said.
The 2,001-acre park 60 miles north of Cedar Rapids is heavily wooded with oak, maple and a variety of other species. Its name is derived from the steep, narrow ridge of bedrock cut by a loop of the Maquoketa River that forms the highest point in northeast Iowa — the Devil’s Backbone.
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The 2020 centennial goals are to celebrate the importance of state parks to Iowa’s history, culture and quality of life, to connect Iowans to natural resources in a personal and passionate way, and to inspire a high level of appreciation and stewardship of the Iowa state park system for the future, Coffelt said.
To prepare for the centennial, work already is underway on Backbone facilities. Earlier this fall, the Natural Resource Commission approved a $565,818 contract with Sheets Design Build of Maquoketa to restore iconic structures constructed by the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps.
Work will be done on the beach lodge, boat building, auditorium and three shelters to restore them to their original appearance. It will involve cleaning, tuckpointing and capstone replacement, selective removal and replacement of rotten wood components and re-roofing at the beach lodge, boat building and west shelter.
All buildings, except the auditorium, will have the old stain cob blasted and new stain and sealer applied. Windows and doors at the beach lodge and boat building will be restored. The project includes replacing concrete footings and sidewalks at the boat building, south shelter and west shelter.
“It’s all part of sprucing things up,” Coffelt said. “It’s 100 years old, so we’re making an effort to take care of the infrastructure and, for lack of a better phrase, make it look better.”
Backbone State Park includes a 125-site campground, 16 cabins, day-use picnic shelters, a day-use lodge, a 21-mile hiking and biking trail system and a trout stream. Backbone Lake is an impoundment of the Maquoketa River created by the CCC.
Amenities at the lake include a beach, boat ramp and concession stand.
For more about Backbone State Park, and other Iowa sate parks, visit IowaDNR.gov.
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