Iowa’s oldest county park celebrates a century
WEBSTER CITY — Back in April 1919, 60 acres of land was donated to Hamilton County by the Briggs Family. Briggs Woods has the distinction of being Iowa’s first county park.
Since the initial donation, Briggs Woods has grown to include a large lake with a swimming beach, an 18-hole golf course, bike trail and a campground renovation. As the park marks its 100th anniversary, Hamilton County Conservation Director Brian Lammers shares some of the history of some of those additions.
Briggs Woods Lake
Development at Briggs Woods park was able to take off around 1956, when Iowa’s conservation board system was created, Lammers said.
“Hamilton County was one of the first 16 counties to create a county conservation board. Not until that time did things really start developing and progressing within the county park itself,” he said.
Ten years later in 1966, the conservation board was talking about a lake for the park. The lake itself was completed in 1968, thanks to the recently created federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
With the creek running through the park, and the topography, it would be easy to create the lake, Lammers said.
“At that time they were primarily thinking of a fishing lake,” he said. “At that time we only had Little Wall Lake in the county, and at that time that lake was more of a marsh than anything else.”
But the lake also featured an extensive beach area covering almost 2 full acres of sand, Lammers said, and it became a top spot for swimming.
This “drew a tremendous amount of people,” he said. “This was long before Webster City had their very nice swimming pool set up, so Briggs Woods Lake was the place to go for a swimming area.”
The thought when building the lake was that it would last 100 years, Lammers said.
“But what wasn’t taken into consideration was the watershed ratio,” he said. “Briggs Woods Lake is about 55 acres of water, but it has over 7,000 acres of watershed. That usually means sediment problems over time.
“By the 1990s, 2000s, we were seeing a lot of vegetation in the lake. It was really hard to fish or swim. Heavy phosphorus and nitrogen levels, from all the field runoffs pouring into this lake. Obviously it’s a creek-fed lake.”
In 2000 a watershed committee was formed. By 2004 or 2005, enough studies had been done to show something new would have to be done to keep the lake from being completely choked out with vegetation.
Again, federal funds were needed, which came in thanks to the Iowa Department of Land Stewardship.
In 2006, the lake was lowered by 14 feet to allow work to be done, Lammers said. A dike or levy was created at the north end of the lake, as well as a sediment retention pond and a new spillway.
“It also gave us an opportunity to create better fish habitat structures, so we did a lot of those,” Lammerss said. “We did a lot of cleanup. We did some dredging around the beach area, to take the root system away from the vegetation.”
By December of 2006 the lake was brought back up to its current level.
“What that has done over time is it drastically decreased the load of phosphorus and nitrogen coming into the lake,” he said. “So now our water quality is a lot better. It’s just amazingly different. Now you don’t have that complete vegetative weed bed all the way across the lake as it used to be up on the north end.”
The latest change out at the lake and beach was an open air beach shelter which isn’t quite completed yet, Lammers said.
“That will be finished up this summer when the weather dries out,” he said.
The first nine holes of Briggs Woods Golf Course was part of the initial bond allocation in 1967 for park improvements.
The idea at the time was that golf would be a big revenue generator for the park, Lammers said, and for a time it was.
“Back then the golf industry was on the rise,” he said.
The back nine holes opened in 1991, and golf was still very big then, Lammers continued.
“For a while Iowa had more golf courses per capita than any other state,” he said. “Transforming to what we do today, we still have one of the better golf courses in Iowa.”
A few years ago plans were made to expand the golf course’s clubhouse. As planning continued, the hopes for the building grew so big, that a new location was needed.
“Looking at the structure of that clubhouse, it just wasn’t really feasible,” Lammers said.
Now, the Briggs Woods Conference Center has been completed. A completely new structure, it has been used to host events for all kinds of diverse groups, and was made possible due to cooperation between the city and county.
Other projects have been done at Briggs Woods over the years.
A six mile bike trail was completed from Webster City to Briggs woods, after years of planning and work piece by piece
“That was over 20 years in the planning,” Lammers said.
The portion within Briggs Woods was completed in 2001, he said. The connection to Webster City was finished roughly five years later.
“That was a nice addition,” he said.
In 2000 a renovation project improved camping options at the park, Lammers said.
“The campground was constructed where it is today,” he said, “from where it was, back by the barn. That made a huge indifference as far as camping opportunities in the park. It was much flatter, it had newer services, a new shower house – it was one of the better upgrades we’ve done to the park in years.”
Along with those changes, four primitive cabins were put in along the Boone River.
Camping opportunities at the park increased again in 2012 with construction of the first large, modern cabin, Lammers said – located up in the old campground area.
In 2014 another cabin was built, he said, and in 2016 the Hickory Cabin was built. Those cabins have been very popular.
“One thing that’s coming up in the near future is another campground renovation, starting here in 2019,” Lammers said. “We have federal funds to renovate the existing campground, to offer more full hookup services, easier layout as far as campers coming in and parking those rigs, and a few additional sites.”