Backbone State Park

Backbone State Park is located in Delaware County, southeast of Strawberry Point and northeast of Lamont, with a Dundee address. The Park’s geology is unique. The Maquoketa River bends around columns of weathered limestone that were missed by ice age glaciers. Diverse plants and trees were and still are a part of the landscape, including white pine, black oak, and ironwood. Locally known at the time as “The Devil’s Backbone,” it had long been used as a picnic spot by area residents.

Once the Chapter 236 state park bill was passed by the 37th Iowa General Assembly in 1917, a list of potential state parks was drawn up by the State Board of Conservation. “The Devil’s Backbone,” now Backbone State Park, was selected as Iowa’s first state park. Described as “the gift of the Iowa sportsmen to the people of the state,”1 its purchase was funded almost entirely from hunting license proceeds. It was dedicated May 28, 1920. Chairman Pammel presented the park, and Iowa's Governor W.L. Harding accepted and dedicated the park for the people of Iowa. By the 1922 season, Park Custodian Lee Y. Trower reported that 40,000 guests had visited, with a one day high of 2,200 visitors.2

Originally 1,280 acres, additional land has been added to Backbone over time and today the park covers 2,001 acres. A portion of the park, 186 acres, is designated as a state forest.