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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Julien Dubuque Monument

MINES OF SPAIN STATE RECREATIONAL AREA. The earliest known inhabitants of the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area during historical times were the MESKWAKIES. Their village was located at the mouth of CATFISH CREEK. They worked LEAD mines in the area for decades before the Revolutionary War and traded furs with the French. (1)

Julien DUBUQUE settled here in 1788. In 1796, Dubuque received a land grant from the Governor of Spain giving him permission to work the land which was owned by Spain. The 189-square mile area was named the "Mines of Spain." (2)

Otto Junkermann farm. Photo courtesy: Mines of Spain Recreational Area

Edwin B. LYONS, a Dubuque business man and conservationist, left provisions in his will to develop an interpretive center and nature preserve for the city of Dubuque. Two years after his death, the Lyons Trust Fund purchased the farmland originally known as the Otto Junkermann farm with the assistance of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. (3) Dedicated in 1981, it was was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993. (4)

A beautiful fall day in the Mines of Spain.
Pine Chapel at the Mines of Spain. Photo courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/ykyguidiiyr/

The 1,439-acre area south of Dubuque contains five sites that were added to the NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES during 1989. One area contains one hundred sixteen prehistoric sites including rock shelters, villages and mounds covering more than eight thousand years. Another area contains remnants of the LEAD MINING techniques used in the 1800s. A third site contains valuable evidence of the mid-19th century LUMBER INDUSTRY. There are also farm outbuildings and artifacts that provide clues to local farming practices. A fourth site, of particular Dubuque interest, includes the Dubuque trading post and the MESKWAKIES. The last site chosen for its unique informational and historic value was the JULIEN DUBUQUE MONUMENT. This was listed, according to the State Historical Society of Iowa, because the tower was a fine example of boosterism in the 19th century. While much of the original timber along the MISSISSIPPI RIVER was logged off during the steamboat era, portions of the Mines of Spain Area were left untouched, leaving burr oak trees today that are over 250 years old. (5)

Marker commemorating the formation of the Church of Christ in the Mines of Spain.

More controversial was a proposed 1.2-mile road through part of the Mines of Spain planned by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The DNR claimed the proposed road would be constructed of earth tone or light brown asphalt to blend with the environment and that a limestone bridge would be designed to appear old. Conservation groups, including the DUBUQUE COUNTY CONSERVATION SOCIETY, claimed that such a road would harm the beauty of the region, parts of which had been accessible only on foot. The Society solicited 2,500 signatures opposed to the construction of the road. (6)

In 1989 the DUBUQUE AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE endorsed the idea of road construction claiming that it would provide improved access for the general public and management crews. The Chamber further explained its belief that 80 percent of the planned route would be constructed along existing roadbeds leaving 80 percent of the Mines of Spain, including hiking trails, away from the road. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said the road would precede other improvements such as improving parking lots, restoring a trapper's cabin and mines, building canoe access areas, and shoring up the Julien Dubuque monument. In 1989 the Conservation Society filed a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief in federal court. (7)

On September 8, 1989, United States District Judge David Hansen accepted a federal magistrate ruling denying an injunction on the construction of the road. Dubuque County Conservation Society claimed an environmental impact study was needed before a road in that area was built. Hansen found there would be no change in the use of the area or no federal participation in the design, engineering or construction of the road.

In June 1991 the Iowa Natural Resources Commission voted unanimously to adopted a compromise proposal allowing shotgun hunting of deer, turkey, and small game for eighteen days annually on approximately 900 acres of the 1,300 acre park. (8) In July, however, the Iowa Legislature's Administrative Rules Review Committee voted to study the matter further thereby delaying the potential hunting. (9) In August 1991 the Dubuque City Council went on record in opposition to the proposal of allowing firearms hunting in the area. (10)

The Iowa State Preserve Advisory Board on September 10, 1991 officially dedicated 600 acres of the recreation area as a state preserve. The board members unanimously designated the northern half of the Mines of Spain as a recreation area called Catfish Creek State Preserve. The area was recommended by the Iowa Natural Resource Commission based upon its unique geologic features, NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES archaeological and historical sites, and rare of endangered plant and animal species. The master plan for the development and use of the Mines of Spain was adopted as the master management plan for the preserve. Any development not specifically mentioned in the master plan had to be presented to the Iowa State Advisory Board for advice. (11)

Following the decision of the Iowa Legislature's Administrative Rules Review Committee around September 9th to allow shotgun hunting, the Dubuque City Council voted 4-3 to prepare legal documents to annex the Mines of Spain into the city of Dubuque. Such an annexation would have placed the land within the city limits and off-limits to hunting. (12)

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources in 2003 presented the outstanding group award to the Friends of the Mines of Spain at the Keepers of the Land conference in Des Moines. The Keepers of the Land is a volunteer program of the state DNR encouraging volunteers to assist with state areas and records the volunteer hours and projects. During the previous seven years, the group provided education and interpretative programs for the public, assisted in keeping the E. B. Lyons Center open constrcted trails, improved habitats, developed displays and exhibits and hosted the fall seminar and winter programs. (13)

In 2006 the Mines of Spain Recreation Area was designated one of the Silos and Smokestacks Historic Area sites. Silos and Smokestacks is a 37-county region in Northeastern Iowa. A federally designated National Heritage Area, it is an Affiliated Area of the National Park Service. In addition to the designation, the Friends of the Mines of Spain received a grant of $2362.00 from the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area. This grant, matched by the organization, was to be used to upgrade exhibits at the center about the history of farming in the park. (14)

In 2012 the recreation area claimed many designations. It was declared a state Watchable Wildlife Area and an important Bird Area with more than 213 species having been identified within its borders. The National Wildlife Federation named it one of their "nature areas." (15) It was also designated as the Julien Dubuque National Historic Landmark and the Catfish Creek State Preserve for its 252 identified archaeological sites. (16) The E. B. LYONS INTERPRETATIVE CENTER served as the visitor center and park headquarters. (17)

Participation in the "first day hike" at the recreational area set a state record for Iowa on January 1, 2019. The event was held in state parks across the United States. A total of 58 hikers were counted on the lower intensity course with 135 completing the Pine Chapel route. Involvement in the program locally has increased as has it nationally since 2012 when it was hosted by the American State Parks Alliance. (18)



1. America's State Parks. "Mines of Spain State Recreation Area and E. B. Lyons Interpretive Center," Online: http://www.americasstateparks.org/Iowa/park/Mines-of-Spain-State-Recreation-Area-and-E.-B.-Lyons-Interpretive-Center/771

2. "Mines of Spain," Online: http://www.minesofspain.org/

3. Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Online: http://www.iowadnr.gov/Destinations/StateParksRecAreas/IowasStateParks/ParkDetails.aspx?ParkID=9&idAdminBoundary=200

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Leifker, David. "Dubuque County Conservation Society Celebrates 75 Years," Julien's Journal, April 2008, p. 75

7. Ibid.

8. Arnold, Bill. "Hunting Plans OK'd at Mines," Telegraph Herald, March 8, 1991, p. 1

9. Arnold, Bill. "Panel Holds Up Mines Plan," Telegraph Herald, July 12, 1991, p. 1

10. Arnold, Bill. "Council Backs Hunting Ban," Telegraph Herald, August 20, 1991, p. 3A

11. Webber, Steve. "Board Designates 600 Mines acres as Preserve" Telegraph Herald, September 10, 1991, p. 3A

12. Arnold, Bill. "Council Moves to Annex Mines Area," Telegraph Herald, September 17, 1991, p. 1

13. "DNR Honors Friends of Mines of Spain," Telegraph Herald, December 3, 2003, p. 10

14. "Mines of Spain Receives Designation and Grant," Julien's Journal, April 2006, p. 70

15. The Free Dictionary. "Mines of Spain State Recreation Area," Online: http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Mines+of+Spain+State+Recreation+Area

16. "Mines of Spain Receives Designation and Grant,"

17. O'Gara, Anita. "Mines of Spain: Decades in the Making," Julien's Journal February 2012, p. 46

18. Fisher, Benjamin, "First-Day Hikers Hike Participation," Telegraph Herald, January 2, 2019, p. 3A