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Iowa — land of 16 lakes

7/5/2017

We may not be as aquatic as our neighbors to the north, but Iowa does have its share of ponds, reservoirs and lakes

Clear Lake Sail Boats and sunsetGo jump in a lake! Or is it a pond? And what’s the difference, anyway? And when does a lake become a pond? Believe it or not, even 21st century science hasn’t arrived at a standard definition. Ponds are generally smaller, and lakes are usually deeper, but no universal distinction is recognized.

Regardless of how you define either, Minnesota claims to have 10,000 lakes. That’s nice for them, but what about the Hawkeye State? Iowa clearly isn’t loaded with lakes, but according to a study by South Dakota State University — brace yourself — Iowa ranks in the top 10 in the total pounds of green sunfish, bluegill and bullhead that are pulled from small private waters in states east of the Rockies. So, BAM! Take that Gophers.

Iowa isn’t the driest state in the union, but it nearly is. Only four states have a smaller percentage of surface area covered by water, and only five states have less surface water by volume.

Improvements in these categories are unlikely, unless more dams are built. Of Iowa’s 416 square miles of lake surface, much of it is manmade.

• The five states with less surface water than Iowa are: West Virginia, New Mexico, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Ames Chamber

• The four states with a smaller percentage of surface water are New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Kansas.

• Alaska has by far the most area of surface water in the nation with 94,743 square miles. That’s 14 percent of its total surface, or one out of every seven feet.

• Michigan has the largest percentage of coverage, 41.5 percent, which amounts to a total of 40,175 square miles.

• Minnesota is only 18th in percentage of coverage at 8.4 percent, and it is No. 9 in total area with 7,309 total square miles.

But put all that aside for a moment. Quality trumps quantity, and of the lakes within the friendly confines of Iowa’s borders, if it’s hot, and the sky is blue, there’s nowhere else we’d rather be than floating on a boat, basking under the Iowa sun, and becoming a little lobster red. As such, the following is a list of Iowa’s biggest lakes. Do yourself a favor this summer and make a splash.

FORMAT NOTE

Distance is as the crow flies. Time is calculated by Google Maps from downtown Des Moines. Direction is relative to Des Moines.

Air Ballons over water1. Lake Red Rock

Size: 15,250 acres

Location: Knoxville, Marion County, east by southeast

Distance from Des Moines: 32 miles; 52 minutes

How it was made: Lake Red Rock was made in the 1960s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It was completed in 1969. It was built to help control floods of the Des Moines River.

How did it get its name?: When the lake was created, several towns were flooded, one of which was named Red Rock. That town had received its name from deposits of red sandstone found in the area. In 1944, not too long before it flooded, there were only 25 families living there.

Website: www.redrockarea.com and www.lakeredrock.org

2. Rathbun Lake

Size: 11,000 acres

Location: Centerville, south by southeast

Distance from Des Moines: 60 miles; 1 hour, 51 minutes

How it was made: A flood control reservoir, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (There are four such lakes: Rathbun, Red Rock, Coralville and Saylorville.) It comes off of the Chariton River. It was made to control floodwater to protect people downstream, but it’s more notably used for its recreation.

How did it get its name?: The town of Rathbun, which is near the dam.

Why people go: One million people visit each year, including 70,000 anglers for both open water and ice fishing. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hosts thousands of hunting trips: whitetail deer, turkey, pheasant, quail and other small game. Hiking, boating and camping are popular. The lake is most popular from May through August; fishing is May through June mainly.

Website: www.iowadnr.gov

Coralville — Rocks3. Coralville Lake

Size: 7,712 acres

Location: Iowa City, Johnson County, East (halfway between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City)

Distance from Des Moines: 106 miles; 1 hour, 46 minutes

How it was made: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started construction in 1949. The work was completed in 1958 after taking a hiatus during the Korean War.

How did it get its name?: The Corps of Engineers named it after the first town downstream. That town derived its name by way of the fossilized coral reefs that were found nearby. During the flood of 1993, 365-million-year-old fossils of coral, brachiopods and crinoids were discovered. More fossils were discovered in 2008 when Coralville flooded for a second time.

Best feature: This is the tallest dam in Iowa. It is 132 feet, 1,400 feet long and 100 feet tall.

Why people go: Visitors enjoy its two 18-hole disc golf courses, Sugar Bottom Mountain Bike Trail (10 miles) and the Devonian Fossil Gorge.

Website: www.mvr.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/Coralville-Lake/Recreation/Devonian-Fossil-Gorge and www.mvr.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/Coralville-Lake

SAYLORVILLE BOATS (98)4. Saylorville Lake

Size: 5,931 acres

Location: Ankeny, north

Distance from Des Moines: 10 miles; 24 minutes

How it was made: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built this dam during a 12-year period. It has saved an estimated $200 million in flood damage. The dam is an “earth-filled embankment” made from 7.5 million cubic yards of compacted material. It is 105 feet tall and 44 feet wide at the top. Its construction cost $130 million.

How did it get its name: Named after the nearby town of Saylorville, which was named after its founder, John B. Saylor.

Website: www.mvr.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/Saylorville-Lake and saylorvillelakemarina.com

5. Big Spirit Lake

Size: 5,684 acres (Iowa’s largest natural lake)

Location: Spirit Lake, north by northwest

Distance from Des Moines: 150 miles; 3 hours, 23 minutes

How it was made: Big Spirit Lake was formed by glaciers 14,000 years ago during the Des Moines Lobe of the late Wisconsin Glaciation period’s southward movement that created all of Iowa’s Great Lakes.

How did it get its name?: The Dakota Sioux called it “The Lake of the Spirit.”

Website: www.vacationokoboji.com

IMG_7821.JPG — Lauren Wickham6. West Okoboji Lake

Lake Size: 3,847 acres

Location: Spirit Lake, north by northwest

Distance from Des Moines: 150 miles; 3 hours, 23 minutes

How it was made: Okoboji was formed by glaciers 14,000 years ago during the Des Moines Lobe of the late Wisconsin Glaciation period’s southward movement that created all Iowa’s Great Lakes.

How did it get its name?: Okoboji was named by Native Americans, some say its meaning is “place to rest,” “reeds” or “rushes” in a Dakota language.

Website: www.vacationokoboji.com

7. Clear Lake

Size: 3,684 acres

Location: Clear Lake, due north up I-35

Distance from Des Moines: 107 miles; 1 hour, 39 minutes

How it was made: Natural glacial lake

How did it get its name?: Native Americans of the Dakota and Winnebago tribes gave it the name, “drawn by the clear waters and beautiful scenery.”

Website: www.clearlakeiowa.com

8. Storm Lake

Size: 3,140 acres

Location: Storm Lake, Buena Vista County, northwest

Distance from Des Moines: 109 miles; 2 hours, 24 minutes

How it was made: Southern moving Wisconsin glaciers, like most of Iowa’s natural lakes, also formed Storm Lake.

How did it get its name?: In the late 1800s, a trapper survived a severe storm while camping out at the lake. When the town that would become Storm Lake formed, it took its name.

Website: www.stormlake.org

9. Okamanpeedan Lake (a.k.a. Big Tuttle or Tuttle Lake) 

Size: 2,294 acres

Location: Dolliver, Emmett County; north; Straddles Iowa/Minnesota border

Distance from Des Moines: 140 miles; 3 hours, 6 minutes

How it was made: Naturally formed from the Des Moines River. This has a massive watershed of more than 120,000 acres.

How did it get its name?: Okamanpeedan means “resting place for the herons.” Its alternate name, Tuttle Lake, comes from the first man to permanently settle along its waters, Calvin Tuttle.

Website: www.facebook.com/pages/Okamanpeedan-Lake/107773722585444

www.mycountyparks.com/county/Emmet/Park/Tuttle-Lake-Recreation-Area-Campground.aspx

10. East Okoboji Lake

Size: 1,835 acres

Location: Spirit Lake, north by northwest

Distance from Des Moines: 150 miles; 3 hours, 23 minutes

How it was made: Okoboji was formed by glaciers 14,000 years ago by the southern movement of the Wisconsin Glaciation period that created all of Iowa’s Great Lakes.

How did it get its name?: The name is possibly derived from a Native American word meaning “place to rest,” “reeds” or “rushes.”

Website: www.vacationokoboji.com

Honorable mention and other notables

11. Trumbull Lake

Size: 1,183 acres — Watershed of 48,552 acres

Location: Lake Township, Clay County; north by northwest

Distance from Des Moines: 130 miles; 2 hours, 56 minutes

12. Lost Island Lake

Size: 1,162-1,226 acres — The sixth largest natural lake in Iowa according to www.redwoodcampground.com.

Location: Ruthven, Palo Alto County; north by northwest

Distance from Des Moines: 127 miles; 2 hours, 54 minutes

How it was made: Natural

How did it get its name?: A submerged island that some say is in the middle of the lake, according to the book “Iowa, a Guide to the Hawkeye State.”

Website: www.ruthvenlostisland.com

13. Lake Panorama

Size: 1,160 acres

Location: Guthrie County; west by northwest

Distance from Des Moines: 42 miles; 1 hour, 6 minutes

How it was made: Construction on the dam that would create Lake Panorama started in 1969. It was completed the next year. Unlike many artificial lakes, Panorama was built specifically for economic reasons.

How did it get its name?: The name was chosen via public contest. Lake Panorama won with 23 votes. It was inspired by the name of a nearby town, Panora.

Website: www.lakepanorama.org

14. Lake Macbride

Size: 812-889 acres

Location: Solon, Johnson County; due east

Distance from Des Moines: 107 miles; 1 hour, 49 minutes

How it was made: Artificially made, this lake was expanded in 1955 by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It nearly touches Coralville Lake.

Website: www.stateparks.com/lake_macbride.html

15. Big Creek Lake

Size: 850 acres

Location: Ankeny/Saylorville Reservoir; north

Distance from Des Moines: 16 miles; 31 minutes

How it was made: In 1967, the Iowa Conservation Commission recruited the Army Corps of Engineers to construct what became the Big Creek Lake Dam. Big Creek Lake actually used to be a part of Saylorville Lake, the fifth biggest lake in Iowa, but became its own entity after the dam was built. The dam was necessary for flood control and to prevent the destruction of Polk City from flooding. Big Creek was filled with water in 1972.

How did it get its name?: It feeds off of Big Creek.

Website: www.bigcreekmarina.com

www.iowadnr.gov/Destinations/StateParksRecAreas/IowasStateParks/ParkDetails.aspx?ParkID=610157

16. Lake Iowa

Size: 83 acres

Location: Williamsburg; east

Distance from Des Moines: 74 miles; 1 hour, 24 minutes

How it was made: This lake was formed by a dam built on Pig Creek.

How did it get its name?: Lake Iowa earned its name simply: It’s the only sizable lake in Iowa County.

Website: www.iowacountyconservation.org ♦

 

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