In the 1920s, Iola Kiwanis Club members built a tourist camp along the Red Star Route south of town.
The route was U.S. 169 and ran along Washington Avenue through Iola’s downtown business district and exited, under a lighted median, southwest of Lake Bassola onto what today is South State Street. The park was just west of where Washington Avenue continued into Bassett before the fancy, lighted Elm Creek bridge fell into disrepair and was razed.
Today, two parks are springing up along the banks of Elm Creek, one south of the creek where the tourist camp was and a second north of the creek. City crews have started clearing what has popularly be referred to as “Poison Ivy Park,” a plot adjacent to the creek’s north bank and east of Washington Avenue.
A part of the upgrade is in response to citizens who railed about lost fishing opportunities when Allen County closed access to the old Lehigh Cement Co. dam upstream on Elm Creek.
When work is completed, fishing will be available from the north bank, allowing fishermen easier access to the creek because of its more gentle slope. The upgrade is also more kid-friendly. Traffic on the dead-end street is pretty much nil, especially when compared to that of State Street.
“FOR NOW we’re just going to clear the two areas and make them kind of grassy parks, probably with some concrete picnic tables,” said Judy Brigham, city administrator. “Whether we put in a fishing platform and whether it will be on the north or south side will be decided later.”
Both will be pedestrian parks, meaning they will be fenced enough to exclude vehicles.
Brigham anticipates that ideas will pop up over the winter and into spring on how to make both areas even more user-friendly.
Washington Avenue’s pavement near the creek will provide for vehicle parking and a bicycle/pedestrian bridge may be built across the creek to connect the two areas, she said.
“We’re going to talk to Trent McCown about the a bridge and how it might fit in with a walking and biking trail,” Brigham added.
McCown is director of the Prairie Spirit Trail, which runs from north Iola to Ottawa. The city has plans to extend the trail to Riverside Park and with Iola now owning so much of south Iola from flood buyouts, an extension to Elm Creek might be possible.
Brigham said she thought when the park areas were ready for use, many Iola-area residents would enjoy not only the opportunity for fishing but also delight in soaking in all nature provides.