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Local friends help preserve natural treasures at Pilot Knob State Park

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In the early 1920s, Forest City natives banded together to memorialize a local forest area later named Pilot Knob State Park.

Pilot Knob State Park has become a place for locals and travelers to enjoy time in nature, providing opportunities for visitors to hike, camp, fish, sled, ski, skate and more. Due to its proximity to Winnebago Industries, the park even sees visitors from across the country and the world.

In 1934, the Civilian Conservation Corps became active in the Forest City area. They quickly began building several of the park’s best-known features, including the stone shelters and bridges, observation tower, and amphitheater.

“It provides kind of a window to the past,” Pilot Knob State Park park ranger Michael Strauser said. “It allows people the opportunity to connect to the land.”

Pilot Knob State Park is unique to Iowa as it contains various wildlife and plant life that can only be found at the park. According to Strauser, the observation tower and amphitheater were the only of their kind made by the CCC in Iowa. The natural characteristics of Dead Man’s Lake also make it one-of-a-kind to Iowa.

Pilot Knob Observatory Tower.jpg

Atop the Pilot Knob observatory tower, people can see for many miles into surrounding counties on a clear day. It is a unique structure that was built by the CCC.

Park visitors can enjoy a cruise through the park and 11 trails containing about nine miles of soft hiking trails and five miles of equestrian trails.

While at the park, visitors will also have the opportunity to see common animals who have made a home in the park, like woodpeckers, whitetail deer, turkeys, and tree frogs. One may even come across goats placed in a controlled area to help manage the spread of buckthorn and honeysuckle.

“I think it’s a hidden gem in Iowa, and not a lot of people know about it,” president of Friends of Pilot Knob Dawn Bill said. “I think that also makes it unique. The way there are rolling hills in the middle of farmland, to me, is absolutely beautiful.”

The scenic season drive through Pilot Knob State Park is family favorite near Forest City..jpg

The scenic season drive through Pilot Knob State Park is family favorite near Forest City.

Friends of Pilot Knob is a non-profit group dedicated to enhancing and improving the condition of the park. They plan many events and fundraisers throughout the year to do so, such as clean-ups, chili cook-offs, bigfoot hunts, and other family-fun events.

Pilot Knob State Park is open for reservations to the campsite, shelters, warming house, and amphitheater. These locations are often reserved for birthdays, family reunions, weddings, and other celebrations.

Both Strauser and Bill remind visitors that while the park will be off-limits to cars and other large vehicles during the winter season, it is still open for anyone wishing to enjoy winter sites and activities.

“I would say to the people who love it (Pilot Knob State Park) to come out and be a part and make a difference,” said Bill. “Be a part of the friends group to promote and enhance so future generations can enjoy it too.”

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