Listen to our full interview with Mark, the lead ranger in Jester Park here:
Jester Park Camping Iowa
Camp Iowa: This is Mark with Jester Park, the lead ranger, in Granger, Iowa. How long has the park been around?
Mark: This is the very first park in Polk County, and it was established in 1958.
Camp Iowa: Other than camping – I know you guys have quite a bit of campsites there – what’s the most popular activity?
Mark: I would say the camping as well as we are in the Army Corps of Engineers Saylorville Lake Project, and our shoreline butts up against Saylorville Lake. We have a lot of boaters, anglers. We also, here at Jester, just south of the park we have the Polk County Conservations Jester Park Equestrian Center, where we have horse trails, we have an indoor arena, and we have folks that bring their horses out. As well we have a golf course on the other side of us that’s owned by the Polk County Conservation as well. So we’ve got day use as well as overnight camping.
Camp Iowa: What are some of the other attractions in the area that are worth checking out?
Mark: We’re close to the city of Des Moines. We’re about 20 minutes out. Folks get down to Des Moines for shopping. We have folks that come out and they’ll go into town over the weekend or whatever, and they will do any number of things down in downtown Des Moines. We have Saylorville Lake Marina, which is on the east side of the lake. It’s got a restaurant there.
Big Creek State Park is just across the lake from Jester; they have a large beach area, as well as they have picnic and other activities that are associated with Big Creek State Park. Bike trails. We don’t have any bike trails at the present time that hook up to Jester Park, but you’re able to get on bike trails on the east side of the lake and you can ride the trails all the way down into the city of Des Moines.
Camp Iowa: That’s fantastic. With having the campground, do you guys have an area where you sell ice or food or kind of an office area in the park?
Mark: At the present time here at Jester, we have a registration booth where the folks will come up and register at one specific site. We are in the process right now, in our strategic planning, we are going to have a camp store. We are also going to be opening four new cabins in the park. That’s October/November. We’re still building them, but we’ll have four cabins to rent out all year round. And that’s located just across from one of the ponds that we have just renovated. We dredged it out, we put in fish habitat for fishing, and we’ve got good pan fishing that’ll be taking place there as well once the cabins open up.
We’re also going to have a camp store put in, probably within the next year and a half, two years. Close to the campgrounds, where they’ll be able to have wi-fi, have their coffee, and sit out on the porch. We’re going to have a wraparound porch around it, and they’ll be able to just make that a mini destination point.
Camp Iowa: Along with the cabins, do you guys have any group camping sites?
Mark: Yes, we have two youth group areas that we currently have, and that’s under the shades of mature oaks, and it’s open to Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, any youth group people that want to come up and camp.
Camp Iowa: Along those lines, does the campground have a lot of secluded campsites, or a little bit more open areas?
Mark: The majority of them are adjacent to another campsite, but we are starting to have walk-in camp areas that are in the timber, and we have two or three right now where you can park your car on the main road and walk about 100 yards into the timbered area where you would be isolated from any other campers. But the majority of our camping is close-knit.
Camp Iowa: That is always good. If you could spend one hour in the park, what would you do?
Mark: I would probably go and do the elk and bison exhibit we have here. That was something else I never got a chance to explain, but we do have an active bison and elk herd here. We also have, right next to the bison and elk herd, we have a large playscape area where families can come with their children and they can play in a natural playground setting right adjacent from the elk and bison exhibit.
Camp Iowa: That’s great. If you could spend one night in the campground, which campsite would you choose and why?
Mark: I’d choose Camp Area 4. Camp Area 4 is a little bit elevated off the lakeshore, where you’ll have a nice view of the upper lake, and there’s a lot of mature trees for the shade, lot of grass. It’s a nice spot.
Camp Iowa: Perfect, yeah. That’s fantastic. It’s always good to get the rangers’ insight on where to be.
Mark: You bet.
Camp Iowa: Thank you so much. Certainly appreciate your time.
Mark: Oh, not at all. Not at all. It was my pleasure.