Van Buren County

bridge at Keosauqua, Iowa
A county whose largest town is one thousand people (Keosauqua, the county seat); a town where most of the students live on gravel roads; a town of farms, woods, and quiet highways--this is Van Buren County. I should know because I taught school there for twenty-one years.

According to author Rob van der Plas in his book The Bicycle Touring Manual (a somewhat dated but still relevant text), certain qualities of an area make bicycling "particularly enjoyable." His list was determined through interviews with experienced touring cyclists and included the following information.
  • Roads with minimal elevation change. Van Buren County contains rolling hills, yet for the most part, my wife and I have found the terrain quite manageable.
  • "Scenically pleasant" lands are common because of the low population of the county. The Des Moines River flows through the county, and the towns on the river are some of the oldest in the state. "Keosauqua" means "bend in the river" from the local Native American language. Also, the second oldest state park, Lacey-Keosauqua Park, is in the county. Both county seat and the park are on the river, as are many of the county's villages.
  • Roads for bicycling avoid industrial and commercial areas, and for the most part are wide and safe. Roads narrow in some places along the river, but the low-traffic consideration balances out that factor.
  • The county markets itself as "the villages of Van Buren," and this is a true point. The county is dotted with small hamlets that have a unique character. These villages are large enough, though, to contain places to stop for a meal or a snack. They contain "convenient facilities for overnight stays and shopping for food." 
  • Van Buren County also hosts "Bike Van Buren" every August, sponsoring rides that tour the villages, with each village prepared to make visitors welcome and entertained. This is just one of many sponsored events that occur during the year.
My wife and I enjoy going to Lacey-Keosauqua State Park. It is a well-maintained facility (with hot showers and flush toilets) that allows tent camping and is near the Des Moines River and Lacey Lake. It is also fairly close (a couple of miles) to Keosauqua for a ride for lunch, a milk shake, or supplies.

our campsite at Lacey-Keosauqua
The Villages of Van Buren site is well developed and a pleasure to peruse. Enjoy discovering the camping, the history, and the "back in time" feel of this rural county. The website and the county itself are looked after by people who have chosen to live in a more rural, less hectic environment. They've made the county a nice place to visit.

Copyright 2012 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

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