Sioux County Conservation History

Oak Grove/Big Sioux Park History and Development

Oak Grove Park has long been noticed by the people who traveled through this park of the Midwest. Several historical records place trappers, early explorer, and surveyors near the park at the “Fork.” The reference to “Fork” is the location where the Big Sioux River and the Rock River join, just north of the park. Certain documents go as far to mention the travelers settled south of the “Fork” for there was a good stand of wood. That stand of wood was and is most likely present day Oak Grove!

When early settlers came to the area, they ignored the rough non-tillable hills. In 1889 the land was touched by two would-be miners, who began a small exploration of the area, mining low grade coal from a pit. It was not profitable and the two left after a year.

Oak Grove Park was originally pasture-owned by Iowa settler John Feikema and family. Early in 1924, civic groups were interested in the grove for park development and called the State Park Board to consider buying 101 acres for the park. In July of 1924, several dignitaries from Des Moines visited the land and were greeted by interested folks from Hawarden, Rock Valley, Sioux Center and Hudson. Sioux Center had the largest numbers, which had arrived in a caravan of 40 cars and a marching band! The officials assured the folks that the state would buy and develop the land-provided there would be local funding so that the county could cost share with the state at a fair price. The state paid $8,000 while the county paid $3,000.  The county’s share came from personal donations at a minimum of $10 per person. As part of the purchase agreement, the State would build a road from the main highway to Oak Grove free of charge.

At the time of purchase in 1924, the following was recorded about the flora: “sunny slope of the prairie is covered with a beautiful lot of prairie flowers, small beard tongue, cessile yellow paint brush, pomme de prairie of the voyagers, pasque fowers, loco weed, cow vetch, yellow and orange puccoon, bird foot violet, etc., sumac, basswood, slippery elm, red haws, American elm, green ash, soft maples, cottonwood and bur oak.”

The first custodian of the park was Jim Younie who, during the summers, lived in a shack in the grove near the river. A permanent custodian’s home was constructed early in the 1930’s and to this day is occupied by a current SCCB Park Ranger.

After the Sioux County Conservation Board was formed in 1961, Mr. Iverson, who was with the State, sent SCCB president Will Winterfeld a letter asking if the county would like involvement in Oak Grove. The two organizations concluded that no trees, vegetation, or natural features would be disturbed. They also decided on a lease agreement between the county and State in which the County Conservation Board would manage Oak Grove Park and provide improvements too.

Big Sioux Park is the county-owned portion of the land adjacent to Oak Grove. Land was purchased from neighboring farmerstotaling around330 acres. That brings the total acres including Oak Grove Park (101 acres belonging to the state) and Big Sioux Park (belonging to the county) to about 430 acres. These 430 acres are managed by the Sioux County Conservation Board. We call the whole park collectively “Oak Grove Park.”