Red Haw State Park is a state park of Iowa, USA, located in Marion County. The park has an area of 2,818 acres (1,163ha), and sits at an elevation of 1,309 feet (399m). It is well known for its large glacial sandstone outcroppings called red rock bluffs that are found along the Middle Raccoon River Valley. These bluffs were formed by glaciers during the Wisconsin glaciation. Fossils can be found on them from the Cambrian period of the Ordovician Period, about 470 million years ago. There is also evidence of prehistoric life from the Devonian and Carboniferous periods.
The Sand Stone Trail was dedicated in 1978, and the entire trail system was finished in 1985. The trails provide access to scenic overlooks, geologic features, historic sites, and other points of interest. A canoe/kayak launch allows access to the river for those who want to explore it without using their car. A picnic area near the campsites provides ample space for family outings. The park includes ten miles (16km) of paved roadways and fourteen miles (23km) of hiking trails, plus boat ramps providing access to the river.
There are 145 camping units, each containing three or four electric hookups, plus a camper services building. Half of the campsites are available on a first come, first served basis, while the remainder must be reserved. Five cabins are equipped with fire rings, picnic tables, and electricity. Each cabin contains six twin beds and a full size futon sofa sleep area. Bathrooms include showers, toilets, and sinks. Campers may use the camper services building for parking, laundry facilities, and indoor recreational activities like ping pong, pool, etc.
The park’s visitor center offers exhibits featuring wildlife, nature, history, and culture. Programs and events are held throughout the year. Events include historical reenactments, naturalist programs, arts and crafts classes, holiday events, and more. The park receives local support from the Friends of Red Haw Park organization. Their annual fundraising event, “Raccoons Weekend”, benefits the park.
Native Americans began living in this region 10,000 to 12,000 BC. By 500 AD, they had developed the Red Rock Culture with burial mounds, pottery, and bows and arrows. During the 1500s, Europeans began homesteading this section of Iowa. In 1851, two brothers, William and Horace Whitney, established a grist mill here on land owned by William. A dam was built across part of the creek, and steam-operated equipment was installed. This made it one of the first mills in Iowa operated under the new technology.
At first, only wheat was processed as corn was considered too coarse. However, within 20 years, the demand for corn increased so much that another mill was constructed. Ownership of both mills was transferred to the city of Marion in 1903, where they remain today. Other businesses have occupied the site over time including feed stores, sawmills, blacksmith shops, barber shops, tobacconists, ice houses, and private homes. Two buildings housing various businesses were moved here in 1960 after being purchased by the city. They still stand unused except for one which serves as the park office.
On November 7, 1961, citizens voted to establish the Red Haw Lake State Recreation Area around the lake created when a dam was built across part of the Middle Raccoon River. The bill creating the recreation area passed easily through the legislature the following year. Land acquisition continued slowly until all property needed for the park was acquired between 1967 and 1971. Construction started in May, 1972, and completed in October, 1973. The campground opened in June, 1974; it was expanded in 1981.