Park Plans

at Big Lake State Park

December 2012

Location:        Holt County, MO

Established:    1932

Size: 411 +/- acres


Big Lake State Park is located on the northern end of Big Lake in the extreme northwest corner of Missouri.  Big Lake, after which the park is named, is a 625-acre naturally occurring oxbow lake created by the nearby Missouri River.  After glaciers receded from northern Missouri thousands of years ago, the river meandered freely across the landscape, which had been flattened by the sheets of ice as thick as 3,000 feet.  The river easily cut into the layers of fine soil that had been deposited by the glaciers.  In some places the river formed an almost compete loop and then cut across the neck of the loop to shorten itself.  As the ends of the loop silted in, an oxbow lake was formed.  Big Lake is considered to be the largest natural lake in the state.

Big Lake is along the Lewis and Clark Trail and was visited by the expedition on July 11, 1804, on their way up the Missouri River.  At the time, Big Lake was part of a vast Missouri River wetland complex of oxbow lakes, river chutes and marshes.  The Iowa and Sac Indian tribes inhabited the area, which contained an abundance of wildfowl and herds of elk and deer.

In 1932, the state began acquiring property for the development of the park.  Today, the park consists of 411 acres divided into two separate tracts.  The 111 acre tract along the eastern shore of the lake has been highly developed as a resort style park containing the park office, store, dining facilities, a motel, cabins, a swimming pool, a campground and day use areas.  The park experienced major flooding in 1952, 1984, 1993, 2007 and 2010.  The worst flooding in recent memory occurred in 2011, with the failure of the Union Township Levee and Levee #10.  Approximately, four feet of water inundated the park for 100 days.  It was the repeated flooding events over the past five years that inspired a revisiting of the park CDP.  The adjustments to this long range plan that follow reflect the need to better protect the park from flood events while still providing a quality recreational experience for visitors. 

The second tract containing 300 acres is located on the west side of the lake.  This area is significant because it contains one of the few remaining high quality Missouri River marshes.  The countryside surrounding the park has been so drastically altered that this marsh is the only property in the area that provides some insight as to what the natural landscape looked like centuries ago.  With its close proximity to Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge the marsh and the entire Big Lake area are part of a major resting area for a variety of migratory birds including bald eagles, which are commonly seen in the park during the winter months.


To adequately serve site visitors and successfully operate as a state park, this facility must:

  • provide facilities that are harmonious with the natural and cultural resources;
  • provide the public with safe and controlled access;
  • provide adequate visitor orientation, recreation, interpretation, and education facilities to enhance the public’s understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of the sites resources; and
  • provide adequate administration, operation and maintenance support facilities to protect, secure, and maintain the natural, cultural and recreational resources of the park.


The Conceptual Development Plan for Big Lake State Park responds to many opportunities and constraints.  Some of the factors considered are mundane and typical of any facility in the system: facilitating a comfortable, enjoyable visitor experience; protecting natural and cultural resources; minimizing management, maintenance and security challenges; working within the bounds of the property and the unique material constraints, therein. 

The most significant constraint to developing the site is the periodic flooding from the nearby Missouri River.

Demographic & Site Character

Big Lake State Park is a recreation destination for many families.  It is located half way between Kansas City and Omaha, and considered by many to be the most significant recreation resource in the area.  Open houses and online surveys confirmed that visitors enjoy the relaxing atmosphere of the campground, the utility of the convenience store, the comforts of the cabins, and the character of Big Lake (its scenery, wildlife viewing, fishing, and boating).  The park is also a hub of activity for the residents of Big Lake Village.  They use it regularly for exercise, the convenience store, and dining.  Without a doubt, whether visitors travel from afar or have a residence on the lake, Big Lake State Park is a place to socialize and unwind. 

Multi-Purpose Building

A new, centrally located structure (the site of the former dining lodge) of approximately 5,500 square feet will be the principal architectural feature of the park.  The building program will include a park office, concessionaire office, small grill, convenience store, meeting/reception room, and a patio with lake views.  The meeting/reception room will have a warming kitchen that includes a sink, counter space, and many electrical outlets.  This building, like the cabins, will be designed to endure inundation.  A redesigned parking area will be included.  Should the swimming pool and change house remain in service, the multi-purpose building will be sited and designed to functionally compliment the pool area.  A courtesy dock/fishing pier will not be provided by the park, but may be provided by the concessionaire at their discretion.

Swimming Pool and Change House

The condition of the pool (post-2011 flood) has been the subject of much consternation and conjecture.  A decision on the future of the pool has been delayed until further inspection can be completed.  At the time of this writing funding for an inspection is not available.  The pool was constructed in 1962-63 and remodeled in 1996.  The pool is a well-liked amenity among locals and campers.  However, admission fees don’t begin to meet the pool’s operation costs.  If the pool is deemed worthy of additional investment and operation, the change house must be renovated.  If the pool cannot be repaired for a relatively low cost, the pool and change house will be demolished and incorporated into the Day Use Area or additional space for the Multi-Purpose Building.


The cabins have sustained repeated flood damage.  The motel and cabins will be removed.  The area will continue to serve overnight lodging needs with the construction of new cabins designed to be flood resistant (either mounded earth, on poles, and/or with features that allow quick protective action in the event of a flood).  It is expected that eleven 2-bedroom cabins will be built along with two 4-bedroom cabins.  A small (3-bay) shelter will be incorporated in the cabin area to facilitate outdoor group activities.  The vehicular circulation will be re-imagined as part of the lodging area reconstruction.  The cabin and parking layout shown on the CDP map are conceptual in nature and should not be construed as even a preliminary design.  Existing and proposed utilities, as well as tree mortality, due to the 2011 flood, have not yet been investigated and were not considered in the graphic depiction. 

Scout Island

The existing road on Scout Island nearly forms a loop.  The road will be extended to form a complete loop for better vehicle circulation and easier patrolling.  Scout Island will continue to function as a Day Use Area in the on-season (mostly for anglers) and to serve as a Special Use Area in the off-season (mostly for Scout camping).  The wooded area inside the road loop will be selectively thinned to provide better tenting opportunities.


The marsh is the most significant natural feature in the park and accounts for roughly three-quarters of the park property.  To better access, interpret and appreciate this resource, a trail/boardwalk and trailhead will be developed. 

Boat Ramp

No changes are anticipated for the boat ramp and its parking area.

Day Use Area


The pre-flood playground will be redesigned and replaced (within the Day Use Area) with a larger unit.  There is a possibility to receive a significant donation for such playground.


If it is decided to construct a memorial to Trooper Fred Guthrie, Jr. and tribute to all who have suffered as a result of Missouri River flooding, it will be sited in the Day Use Area.  It is expected that a memorial in the Day Use Area can be appropriate in profile and exposure to provide both a private, contemplative experience and still be easily accessed by all visitors.  Additional discussions are needed with the Guthrie family and the Missouri Highway Patrol Department to determine the appeal and appropriateness of a memorial feature.  Alternatives to constructing a memorial include naming or dedicating a park building or structure (the new cabin shelter, perhaps).


No changes are proposed for the WPA-designed shelter and the surrounding landscape. 


A trail will link the campground at the south end to the wetland at the northwest end.  The trail will provide an off-road, bike/pedestrian circulation option for visitors wishing to experience the park without the use of a vehicle.  The trail will connect the campground, day use area, central multi-purpose building, cabin complex, boat ramp, Scout Island and the wetland.

Other Recreational Programming

The Day Use Area will also have a sand volleyball court, horseshoe pits, badminton, and picnic area.  

Parking Areas

No changes are proposed for the parking areas that serve the day use area.


Campsite Redevelopment

Redeveloping the campground presents an opportunity to re-imagine the campground, provide better-spaced campsites, and build campsites that are more flood resistant while preserving the campground’s open, yet shaded, character.  It is expected that the camping mix provided will breakdown as such: 20 full hook-up sites, 45 electric only sites, ten basic sites and six camper cabins.  Additionally, a reservable “travel camp” loop will be planned for the campground.  It is expected that this feature will be situated at the south end of the campground and host about ten campsites.  It is likely that Big Lake State Park could support an even greater number of camp sites, but wastewater treatment capacity is a limiting factor.

Shower House Relocation

A new shower house (with bathroom and laundry facilities) will be centrally located in the campground.  While available to all campers, it will be most convenient to basic campsites and camber cabins. 

Dump Station

The dump station will be relocated from the south end of the campground to the north end.  This will better serve those that are looking to empty their wastewater storage tanks - exiting campers.

Camper Cabins

As the campground will be redeveloped with expanded utility service, camper cabins will be added to the mix of overnight accommodation options.  Electric service will be run in anticipation of the camper cabins and a new, improved shower house will meet their water/wastewater needs. 


The campground currently has a small playground associated with it.  This will continue to be the case.


The landscape has suffered greatly as a result of the 2011 inundation.  Hundreds of trees and shrubs were lost due to extended exposure to a flooded condition.  Suffering most greatly were the maples, hackberries, walnuts and cedars.  Sycamores and cottonwoods fared better (as would be expected).  Tree mortality will be investigated as part of the campground redevelopment, underground utility installation and overall rehabilitation of the park and the reshaping of its spaces. 

Service Area

The service area is located at the southernmost end of the park.   It consists principally of the park office, shop and storage buildings.  The existing park office will be converted to a concessionaire residence.  The shop and other buildings will remain continue to serve in their current capacity, although additional storage for equipment and other implements would be a welcome addition. 

Big Lake

Lakeshore erosion has long been an issue at Big Lake State Park.  As a part of bringing the park back online, rip-rapping the bank will protect the resource against wave action. 


None at this time.


None at this time.