In 1947, the State of Illinois acquired a 160-acre parcel known as the Wolf Lake State Recreation Area. Later acquisitions were added to the property and have increased the area. In 1965, the Illinois General Assembly named the area after William W. Powers. Powers was a Chicago alderman on the Chicago City Council and Illinois General Assembly legislator in the 1920s, and used the site for picnics to feed the needy during the Great Depression.
The park also has a military history. There is a defunct Nike Ajax missile honoring the missile site that occupied the area during the Cold War years. Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day ceremonies attract veterans who place flags at markers near a former re-dedication ceremony site.