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ARNOLDS PARK, Iowa — Summer is prime time for visitors from across the region to head toward Iowa’s Great Lakes. It is a long time destination for Iowa.

The area is a chain of glacier-carved lakes, including Spirit Lake, Iowa’s largest natural lake.
There are five inter-connected lakes including East Lake Okoboji, West Lake Okoboji, Upper Gar, Lower Gar, and Minnewashta.

While the Iowa Great Lakes is known for tourism now, the first-ever tourist attraction here at the lakes can still be seen.

“Abbie Gardner was part of the Spirit Lake massacre that happened at 1857,” said Bri Kuhlman, of the Dickinson County Nature Center.

The Spirit Lake Massacre is a day in March 1857, when over 30 settlers were killed by members of the Sioux Indian Tribe, led by Inkpaduta. The killings were revenge for the death of his brother and some other disputes.

Abbie Gardner was taken captive, and then later released.

“Then it was many years later, she came back to the site, she sold artwork and Native American artwork, and she also told her story,” said Kuhlman. ” So she started chargin admission to come visit the site.”

The Abbie Gardner Sharp Cabin can still be seen in Arnolds Park. There is a monument, and family graves also on the site. The Museum and Cabin have not been opened during the COVID-19 pandemic. The site can still be visited.

Also in Arnolds Park is the Arnolds Park Amusement Park. This is a family oriented amusement park with rides, including the Legend, a classic wooden roller coaster. Arnolds Park also operates the Queen II, a cruise boat which takes people on a guided tour of West Lake Okoboji from the dock by the amusement park in Arnolds Park.

“It’s families making memories that will last them a lifetime,” said Paul Plumb, Marketing Director for Arnolds Park. “They come here have a great time at the park and just spending time with family that’s so important especially now during this time.”

A part of the Arnolds Park Amusement Park complex includes the Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum, a collection of classic wooden boats, and other artifacts telling the story of the Iowa Great Lakes.

Also a part of the complex, is the Iowa Rock’N Roll Hall of Fame. This organization began in 1997, to honor Iowa musicians and bands. The displays here were designed by the same firm which designed the displays for the Rock’N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

“They started the organization and then right away they wanted to recognize the legends in Iowa rock ‘n’ roll,” said Clay Norris, of the Iowa Rock’N Roll Music Association. “So that very year they had the first Hall of Fame induction ceremony and like everything it started kind of small it just grew and grew and grew every year.”

This exhibit also honors Iowa Rock”N Roll stations like KIOA, KLWW, and KMNS. Audio clips from some stations can be heard. The exhibit also has two documentary films for viewers to watch.

Darlowe Oleson was one of the owners of the Arnolds Park Roof Garden. He also owned other ballrooms in Iowa. He was able to attract so national acts to make stops in Iowa.

“If the Beach boys were going to go from Denver to Chicago he’d say why don’t you stop in Iowa?” said Norris. “So we had the Beach Boys, the Yard Birds, and the Ronnettes.”

Each year there is a new class of inductees into the Iowa Rock’N Roll Hall of Fame. Each Labor Day Weekend they hold induction ceremonies. While the Rock’N Roll Hall of Fame is open, and is free of charge, this year the ceremonies are being postponed to Memorial Day 2021.

The Iowa Great Lakes has eight state parks and reserves where anyone can enjoy the lakes. At Pillsbury Point near the Gardner Cabin in Arnolds Park is the smallest Iowa State Park. This lakefront park is only six acres. There are beaches at Gull Point State Park, and Pikes Point State Park. There is even a park right south of the Iowa/Minnesota State Line, Minnewankan State Park is at the north edge of Big Spirit Lake.

Here are some of the links to this Destination Iowa:

Abbie Gardner Sharp Cabin

Arnolds Park Amusement Park

Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum

Iowa DNR Great Lakes Region

Iowa Rock’N Roll Hall of Fame

Okoboji Tourism