Backbone State Park was dedicated in 1920. It was Iowa's first state park and remains one of the most significant. Backbone is named for its narrow and steep ridge of bedrock carved by a loop of the Maquoketa River. Folklore named this high ridge of rock the "Devil's Backbone". Nearly a hundred years ago, State Geologist Samuel Calvin wrote these words about "The Backbone":
"Its sides are in places precipitous, the rocky cliffs rising sheer for more than 80 feet. Erosion and secular decay have carved the rocks into picturesque columns, towers, castles, battlements and flying buttresses."
Backbone consists of 2,001 acres and is heavily wooded with a variety of tree species, predominantly oak and maple. This woodland serves as a valuable refuge for a variety of wildlife including deer, raccoon, fox, turkeys, ruffed grouse and many species of songbirds.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was established in April, 1933 as part of the New Deal program of President Roosevelt as an effort to provide work for unemployed Americans during the Great Depression. Many of Backbone's buildings were constructed by the CCC from 1933 to 1941. Among the projects completed at Backbone were the dams on the Maquoketa River forming Backbone Lake, a cluster of rustic family cabins, beach and boat house, an auditorium, bridges, roads, picnic shelters, rest rooms and trails. Some of these structures are currently being restored and the effort is continuing.