McFarland Park & Story County Conservation Center


 A complete lake restoration began on McFarland Lake in December 2022. The lake and the surrounding, paved Touch-A-Life Trail are closed until construction is complete later this year. The remainder of McFarland Park will remain open (i.e. the soft/unpaved trails, Conservation Center, and playscape). Click  here for a collection of article updates on this project.

56461 180th Street, Ames IA 50010

McFarland Park is a 200-acre area just north of Ames. The park offers visitors a variety of ecotypes to explore including tallgrass prairie, woodland, and stream habitats. Educational programs are offered throughout the year. 


  • The offices of the administrative and environmental education staff are housed at the Story County Conservation Center, and the multipurpose room is available for rent for social gatherings and meetings. A cedar deck is adjacent to the building for picnics and public use. Office hours are Monday-Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm. 
  • Adams Observatory: Supervised by the Ames Area Amateur Astronomers (AAAA); available to the public through astronomy programs offered by AAAA. Please see for current program information.
  • Touch-a-Life Trail: Hard-surfaced trail, just under one mile, travels along the lake through various plant communities including prairie, woodlands, and ponds; handicapped access to fishing dock, deck overlooking the lake, and handicapped accessible picnic sites.
  • Picnic areas with grills
  • Hiking and Off-road Biking: The park's 5.5 miles of trails are open to hiking and off-road biking, but interior trails with stairs are closed to bicyclists. Please obey all signs. Equestrians are not allowed in the park.
  • The 6.5-acre lake is stocked with bluegill, bass, and catfish. The lake is slated for restoration work in the coming years. 


Dr. Ernest J. McFarland owned the original 93 acres of the park that honors his name. Plans for the lake were drawn up for him in 1942. The lake was eventually built in 1949 and the spillway rebuilt and elevated to deepen the lake in 1967. Dr. McFarland had hoped to build his retirement home near the lake, but passed away before that could be accomplished. The McFarland family allowed many people to enjoy their lake over the years and fishing, swimming, and camping were popular activities for their guests well into the 1960’s. The family didn’t want to see the land broken up into a housing subdivision after Dr. McFarland’s death and offered the then new Story County Conservation Board a first option to buy the land to develop as a park. The board purchased the land in 1969, but development of the park did not begin until 1973 and 1974 when the master plan was completed and the first full-time park officer was hired. Several other parcels were added during the 1970’s to bring the park to its present 200 acres. The trail system was built by high school aged Youth Conservation Corps kids during the 1970’s. The ADA compliant Touch-a-life Trail was built with major help from the Ames Town and Country Kiwanis Club first in the mid 1970’s and expanded in 2004 and 2005. The first observatory was built by the Ames Area Amateur Astronomers Club in 1980, and an improved building was built in about 2000. The conservation center was completed in 1991.

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