Louis H Pammel

“It is to him that we are indebted for our splendid state parks, more than to all others, and no man will have a greater monument when he has passed.”
Allison Tribune, June 12, 1929. 1


Iowa State's botany professor, Louis Hermann Pammel, played a critical role in Iowa’s conservation work and state parks movement during the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. In large part due to his efforts, Iowa was one of the first states to have a state park system. Born in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Pammel came to Iowa State College in February 1889. He became head of the department of botany in 1918 and remained in that role until his resignation in 1929. Pammel’s steady and guiding influence helped shape Iowa’s early state parks and made them a place where future generations could enjoy Iowa’s natural beauty.


Pammel worked tirelessly to find land for state parks within Iowa, beginning to do so even before the 1917 state parks legislation was passed. For example, in 1916 he wrote to the president of Steamboat Rock’s bank (a city located in Hardin County, northeast of Eldora, Iowa) for help in finding land in the future Pine Lake State Park area (Pine Lake State Park was originally named Pine Creek State Park). The willingness of citizens to assist in the effort, as the president of Steamboat Rock's bank states in his response to Pammel's letter, is supported by the variety of preserves and parks in the area.


The 1917 act began the process of setting up a state park system in Iowa under the state game and fish warden and provided for the establishment of a Board of Conservation. As stated in the 1917 act, the board’s mission was to “investigate places in Iowa, valuable as objects of natural history, forest reserves, as archaeology and geology, and investigate the means of promoting forestry and maintaining and preserving animal and bird life in this state and furnish such information…for the conservation of natural resources of the state…” Iowa’s governor appointed members of the Board of Conservation in late 1918, and Louis Pammel was the board’s first chairman and president.


Pammel hit the ground running as president of the board, working rapidly to develop the state park system; acquiring land, investigating the forestry, plants, and scenic value of potential sites; writing reports; and seeking donations and funding. Even as president and chair of the Board of Conservation and head of the Iowa State's Botany Department, Pammel continued publicizing the need for conservation, speaking to clubs and other audiences. As the dedication program Pammel State Park 2 states "No group was too small for him to travel many miles to bring to them the message of saving Iowa’s scientific, historic and beautiful spots; no site was too far away for him to see and appreciate. In all hours and in any kind of weather, Dr. Pammel has found time to write and lecture continually in behalf of the cause he has espoused." 3


Pammel would serve on the Iowa State Board of Conservation for nine years (1918-1927). During his time on the board 38 parks were established. Thanks in large part to Pammels' perseverance and energy in establishing state parks, visitors can enjoy for 71 state parks and recreation areas in the state as of 2017. 

Louis Pammel finding aid.

  • 1. Louis Hermann Pammel Papers, RS 13/5/13, Special Collections and University Archives Department, Iowa State University Library
  • 2. Pammel Park has been managed by the Madison County Conservation Board since 1989.
  • 3. Pammel State Park dedication program, Box 60, Folder 43, Louis Hermann Pammel Papers, Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives.