Lake Darling is back
The new 200-capacity picnic shelter at Lake Darling State Park broke capacity Thursday afternoon during a ceremony to commemorate the reopening of the park to the community.
People from many neighboring communities as well as state officials – all of whom have had a hand in the $16 million renovation project to remove the silt from the lake — gathered under the shelter for the ceremony. On the clear aqua-blue water in front of the shelter, people were taking the opportunity to sail on the newly refilled lake. Campers from the nearby campground walked past the ceremony on the hiking trail during the event.
“This is truly a moment in history with the ribbon-cutting reopening of Lake Darling,” Fay Vittetoe, president of the Friends of Lake Darling, said. “Another thing going on today is the story of our ancestors who, in 1946, were forthright enough to want water recreation and a place in the wild and nature that their families could recreate in, where their families could go without going out of state.”
Vittetoe also asked people in the audience who were present at the original gate closing on Sept. 17, 1950, to raise their hands. Several people in the audience raised their hands.
The state park was built on 1,500 acres of former farmland, which was purchased from farmers at an average of $100 per acre. Several of the people present Thursday afternoon were farmers with land bordering the park. Vittetoe said that the clean water in the lake is a result of exceptional farming practices.
During the event, documentarian Sam Koltinsky, executive producer of documentary “America’s Darling” presented two “Brushes of Excellence,” which were owned by Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, who the park was named after, to the Friends of Lake Darling. During the event, Koltinsky interviewed several people for a documentary he is working on with Iowa Public Television called “Darling is Back.” He said that Kip Kos, Darling’s grandson, had presented him the brushes.
Darling was a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist who worked for newspapers in Des Moines and Sioux City. He was also a prominent figure in the conservation movement. He dedicated Lake Darling State Park on Sept. 17, 1950, during the first dam gate setting. He died Feb. 12, 1962.
Members of the Brighton, Fairfield and Washington chambers of commerce held the red ribbon while about 50 people who had been involved in the project to renovate the park lined up behind. Scissors were passed out and, with the announcement that Lake Darling is back, the ribbon was cut to thunderous applause.
The project to renovate the lake began as a three-year project. The lake was drained in 2008 to dredge silt from the bottom. Due to several delays, the project was not completed until this year. During that time, the project was expanded to include changes to the park itself. On Feb. 12, the dam gate was closed again and the lake was allowed to refill. Park renovations are still underway and several roads through the park as still closed.
A bust of Ding Darling was also dedicated during the ceremony. Artists Doris Park and Steve Maxim, who had created the bust, were on hand for the unveiling. The bust will be temporarily housed at Federation Bank in Brighton.
On Sept. 17 a grand rededication ceremony is planned at the Legacy Lodge in the park. Vittetoe also said that later this year or early next year, four-seasons cabins will be built in the park. She said a grand opening ceremony for the cabins would be announced at a later date.