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Camping Wildcat Den State Park in Iowa

Listen to our full interview with Jim Ohl of Wildcat Den State Park here:

Photo courtesy of Kepper66

Wildcat Den State Park Camping

Camp Iowa: We’re talking to Jim Ohl. He’s the park ranger at Wildcat Den State Park in Iowa. How’s it going today, Jim?

Jim: Nice and warm. [laughs] Doing pretty good. It’s going to get hotter as the day goes on.

Camp Iowa: Tell our listeners a little bit about Wildcat Den State Park, how big it is and how long it’s been there.

Jim: The park was started in 1947. It’s approximately 421 acres in size; we have approximately four miles in trails in the park and two historic areas in the park, one being the Pine Creek Grist Mill and the other being the Melpine School. We have the big geological features of sandstone; we have botany, we have almost every fern that there is in the state, even some very rare ones.

We also have, farther south in Iowa, Northern White Pine plantation of pine trees. Yeah, we know pine trees grow down in Georgia and way down south, but this is a natural plantation that just reproduce themselves, and they’ve been there in this little spot for a long time. So that’s kind of unique.

Camp Iowa: Yeah. What are the most popular activities that guests enjoy when they come there?

Pine Grist Mill - Wildcat Den State Park. Photo courtesy of Iowa DNR
Pine Grist Mill – Wildcat Den State Park. Photo courtesy of Iowa DNR

Jim: They like the hiking, the camping, the tours of the Pine Creek Grist Mill and the Melpine School. We have them on weekends, where during the peak season, we actually run and grind at the mill. It was a flour mill, and we run and grind there at 1:30 and at 3:00 on the weekends, so people can see it in action basically.

Camp Iowa: Wow. I’m assuming you have camping there, right?

Jim: Yes we do.

Camp Iowa: And if I wanted to venture outside of the park, what kind of attractions are there in the area to drive to?

Jim: Oh, we have many. Muscatine has several places to go to, the Pearl Button Museum, the riverfront down in Muscatine – it’s an old style riverfront with a lot of buildings that’s been historically kept in place, along with houses and things like that to go through.

You go towards the Quad Cities, we’re only 18 miles from the Quad Cities. There’s all kinds of things to see there and do. They have many festivals and things throughout the summer on weekends to go to, from the Bix Race to the Jazz Festival to the John Deere Commons, which is free to the public to go to. It shows the history of John Deere farm equipment and stuff like that.

Camp Iowa: Cool. If I’m camping at the park there, do you guys sell ice or any foodstuff in the office?

Jim: We do not. We’re just a state park. I’m the only full-time employee here at the park, so no, we don’t. When they’re open, they do have some water and pop and candy bars and things like that that they sell down at the mill along with their souvenirs.

Camp Iowa: How many campsites do you guys have?

Jim: We have 28 campsites up here at Wildcat Den. We also have Fairport Recreation Area, which is a satellite that I take care of which is down on the Mississippi River. There’s 42 sites down there, boat ramps, playground, modern shower building, and all that. It’s down on the river down there. It’s about six miles from the park.

Camp Iowa: Two more questions for you. If you could only spend one hour in Wildcat Den State Park, what would you do with your time?

Jim: That’s a good question. Depends on what you’re really interested in. There’s so many different interests here. If you’re interested in geology, I’d look at the cliffs. Be out on the trails and look at the cliffs. If I was interested in botany, I’d be looking for the ferns and all the different botany that we have here in the park. If you like history, I’d be down to the mill and the school. I’d spend my hour there.

Camp Iowa: Cool. And if you could spend just one night in the campground, Jim, which specific campsite would you stay at?

JJim: Ooh, that question is any of them. Our campground up here is a big circle. There’s camping in the middle and around the outsides, so every site is almost the same. I guess I don’t have any particular site that I would go to because they’re all nice sites and they’re all well-patrolled, well taken care of.

Camp Iowa: All right. Hey, thanks for taking some time out of your morning, Jim, to chat with us.

Jim: You’re welcome. Thank you guys for helping us out here with a little advertising.

Camp Iowa: Absolutely. Take care.

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