Friends of Lake Wapello State Park

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History of Lake Wapello

 May, 1932 - The prospect of a state park for Davis County has been a question for several months.  Interest was first shown in the project about the middle of February when members of the Iowa Conservation Survey Committee declared they would inspect several sites in this vicinity.  A local committee composed of J. H. Chappell, Walter Brown and K.F. Baldridge have represented the Bloomfield Retail Merchants in promoting the project for Davis County.

The fishing lake is to be built without public taxation , the funds being available from hunting and fishing licences and donated private funds.  Most of the money will come from several influential citizens who have taken an interested in seeing the park located in this part of the state and in Ottumwa where they have already raised $15,000 for the project.  It will be necessary for Davis County to raise $1,000 to secure the lake at the proposed site near Bunch.  Pledges of free labor to clear land are also being taken from enthusiasts of Bunch, Drakesville, and other communities within the close proximity of the proposed site.  The solicitors who will canvass Davis County are J. Harvey Leon, John Ownes, Roscoe Brooks, Chris Wagler, A.B. Welch, Gordon Hawk and Glen Summers.

Tuesday, August 23, 1932 - The headline in the Davis County Republican announced Bunch Lake - "Work Will Start Within Ten Days".  The bid of $37,119 submitted by Paul Beutz, Sioux City Contractor, was accepted by the Iowa Fish and Game Commission yesterday in Des Moines.  After final papers relative to the title of the land are filed, work will start.  Tracts owned by W.J. Steckel, George Priest, Edith Swaim, Bert Kirk, Z.L. Gilliland, Charles Brown and Hohn M. Smith and heirs are involved in the property transactions.

The Bunch lake site will cover an area of 892 acres.  The lake, according to the final survey, will occupy about 330 acres of water.  It will be about 1 3/4 miles long and 600 feet to 1/2 mile wide. No decision has been reached on a name for the new lake, although several suggestions have already been made to the Commission. (In April, 1933, the name Wapello was selected to commemorate the Southeastern Iowa Indians' Chief Wapello, whose grave is near Agency and who was a popular leader of the friendly Sac and Fox tribes at the time of the early white settlements in Davis County and other southeastern Iowa tracts).

In January of 1933, Bloomfield Work Day was held and over 100 men from that area worked at the lake site clearing the lake bottom of timber.  As of February 1, 1933, over 1,050 days of labor were donated by the citizens of the Bunch vicinity.  Men and teams of horses and other equipment have been on the ground practically every day for the past five months.  This project is a good example of what real cooperation in a community means.  A rumor was abroad that the men who were doing the clearing of this land were being paid for this work, but there was no foundation for this.  Not only is the state receiving free labor as mentioned above, but even in the price of the land, the owners were exceedingly liberal in the prices asked.

In April of 1933, reforestation camps (Civilian Conservation Corps) were located in Iowa.  Camp #773, Camp Roosevelt Civilian Reforestation Army, was stationed at Lake Wapello.  George W. Vaughn was the army officer in charge of the men.  The 187 recruits assigned to Camp Roosevelt arrived on May 30th, the additional 25 men who completed the camp's enrollment were mustered from local unemployed men.  These men were assigned to gully erosion work, because erosion might dump crumbling tons of shore into the newly formed body of water.  The recruits also built a fence around the park.

The new boat and bath house under construction was no ordinary affair.  The structure was being built of rock.  Space was provided for boat shelter, men's and women's dressing rooms, check rooms and a concession stand.  C.C.C. workers  were busy with tractors and graders building a sloping beach which was sanded.  Also, a total of 105,000 black locust trees were to be planted in the park area by the C.C.C. youths.

On June 15, 1936, the lake was opened for the first time for fishing purposes at 4:45 A.M.  there were 300 autos lined up at the main entrance awaiting the starting signal.  Many, near the head of the parade, had been parked in line since the day before.  At exactly 4:50 A.M. the game warden cast aside the barriers to the main entrance and a charge of fishermen, likened by one reporter to the charge of troops up San Juan Hill, was unleashed.  Leading the pack was an 11 year old Bloomfield boy, Donald Eugene Eby.  "Young Eby, armed with a casting rod equipped with a wiggler, beat the pack to the shoreline.  A sweep of his arm sent the plug whistling into the lake.  There was a flash in the morning mist as a 14 inch bass struck.  One minute after 5 A.M. this young school boy reeled in the first fish ever to be taken legally from the angler's playground."  At 5:10 A.M. there were 60 boats bobbing on the water and by 7:00 A.M. the 12 mile lake shore was ringed with fisher-folk no more than 10 feet apart in any area as some 6,000 anglers tried to depopulate the finny tribe in its depths.

 - Reprinted from "This is Davis County Iowa" - Walsworth Publishing 1976