Reports from early visitors indicated that the Pilot Knob area was at least partially wooded. Forest and prairie apparently co-existed in the knob and kettle terrain throughout Hancock, Winnebago, and Worth counties, primarily because the oak-covered knobs were protected from fire by intervening wet depressions.
Pilot Knob State Park was officially dedicated in 1924, after a coalition of local citizens took the initiative to preserve the area for future generations. In 1934, Civilian Conservation Corps workers began building and landscaping projects at the park. Within four months, they had constructed roads, trails, a rock shelter, an outdoor amphitheater, and the 35-foot observation tower (photo at beginning of article). Glacial erratics (boulders transported by ice) were collected from nearby fields for construction of the buildings and tower. These erratics consist mostly of igneous and metamorphic rocks that originated in Minnesota and Canada. In 1968, the entire park (365 acres) received State Preserve status, and in 1978, an additional 160 acres was acquired for parkland.
Pilot Knob State Park still serves as a modern-day landmark for travelers crossing the former expanse of north central Iowa prairie. The gravel hummocks and sparse stands of burr oak reflect Iowa’s past glacial and vegetation history, and create the scenic beauty for which Iowa’s knob and kettle country is known.