Lakeside Lab — The Best Kept Secret in the Iowa Great Lakes Area

Lakeside Lab’s Outdoor Classrooms Immerse Students in Nature

Every year, thousands of students of all ages discover a hidden jewel on the west side of West Lake Okoboji. Open to the public, the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory is owned by the state of Iowa and operated through the Board of Regents. Lakeside Lab provides science classes and research opportunities for university students and offers countless outreach programs and services through state universities for students of all ages.

“There are many who consider the Lab to be one of the best kept secrets in the Lakes Region,” Friends of Lakeside Lab Executive Director Lisa Roti said. “The 147-acre campus is quiet and peaceful and situated on scenic West Lake Okoboji. Over 2,000 students of all ages are served throughout the year.”

The landscape along Little Miller’s Bay provides adjacent natural areas that are ideal for outdoor classrooms, providing access to prairies, wetlands, and forests.

History of Lakeside Lab

Lakeside Lab was founded in 1909 by Dr. Thomas Macbride and colleagues from the University of Iowa, for the main goal of “studying nature in nature.” Eleven of Lakeside's 37 buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The newest building constructed in 1998, the Waitt Building, is used by numerous students, particularly local school districts. The space provides a modern water quality laboratory, additional classrooms, and staff offices and is adjacent to the Waitt Quality Lab. The state hygienic lab is where water quality testing takes place, especially the state’s beaches, pools and local drinking water.

In 2006, Lakeside Lab was designated a Regents Resource Center, expanding both its audience and mission and providing more avenues for studies and research. Dr. Mary Skopec has been the Executive Director of the Lab since 2016, and is accountable to the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa.

Immersive Education

As the only biological field research facility in the North American prairie pothole region, the Lab houses scientists and researchers all year long.

“The outdoors become our classroom. Every year, students are transformed by what is learned and many find their purpose or trajectory in life,” Roti said. “They receive college credit and gain an immersive education in nature.”

If a class is four weeks long in the summer, the student is often outside all day long, every day, wading in local waters or studying the nearby prairie.

The 2019 summer courses range from aquatic ecology and environmental nonfiction to field archaeology and prairie ecology. There are also a number of research scientists studying at the Lab, including one partnership with the Department of Natural Resources, regarding the curlyleaf pondweed problem.

“Lakeside Lab is the perfect place for evolved learning,” she said. “Many come here and are hooked into nature for the rest of their life.”

Education is offered for children of all ages, as Jane Shuttleworth oversees K-12 learning and camps and resources are offered throughout the year.

“We want the children to develop a lifetime relationship with Lakeside Lab and gain an appreciation for nature when they are young,” Roti said. “You never know who may return later in life as a researcher or professor, because of their early introduction to nature at the Lab.”

Some of the camp opportunities for school-age children this summer range from Predator Prey to Watershed Wonders. Roti said the Frog Camp is almost sold out within the first day it’s offered, and the newest camp, Emerging Nature Scientists, allows students to investigate nature-related topics they have developed a passion for throughout the camps.

Every summer, Lakeside Lab creates a Treasure Hunt for families and interested parties to explore the campus and find nature features unique to the space. Wild Wednesdays are filled with free family programs every week at 7 p.m. at Waitt Lab. The week’s listings can be found at under education.

The campus is open year round, and the public is welcome to visit during daylight hours. For more information, visit or Lakeside Lab can be located off of 1838 Highway 86, Milford, IA 51351.