SCOTT STATE PARK — This is where the infamous flatlands of the High Plains abruptly drop into steep canyons and a valley that befits the word “oasis.”
Fed by a score of springs, in the bottom of the valley between Oakley and Scott City is a 100-acre lake that’s clear, cool and full despite the region’s drought.
National Geographic Traveler magazine named Scott State Park one of America’s top 50 parks several years ago. Yet few outside the area know of these 1,200 acres.
The park was truly a gift to the public. Local word has it the Widow Steele, an area pioneer, wanted to preserve the valley’s beauty after her death in about 1930. Her gift to the government was perfectly timed for scores of workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps to arrive and labor on a dam, basically for “three hots and a cot,” through much of the Great Depression.
The park has about 180 campsites, including two modern cabins with the lake’s best view, and rows of sites with utilities for RVs. Primitive camping spots, most with a picnic table and fire ring, are often at the water’s edge and placed to be covered by shade but open to the breeze.
Scott Lake has one of Kansas’ better public bass populations, and saugeye are doing well. Heavily stocked catfish, and hand-sized bluegill waiting for worms below bobbers along weedlines, make up the majority of the catch. Trout are stocked in the fall and winter.
The lake’s narrow, curving shape often makes it an ideal place for using float tubes, kayaks and canoes. The latter two, plus paddleboats, can be rented from the small store and bait shop at the edge of the lake’s sandy beach.
The park’s valley is ringed with more than eight miles of hiking, biking and horseback trails that drop and rise through the kind of steep, cactus-studded canyons of classic John Wayne westerns. Befitting such settings, the park has a small herd of buffalo, though some show signs of bovine bloodlines as the animals’ owner tries to consistently produce white buffalo.
The valley shows several signs of Native American inhabitance. Within the park are the remains of a Taos Indian pueblo occupied mostly in the 1600s. Battle Canyon, near the park’s edge, is where the Cheyenne last fought the U.S. Cavalry in Kansas as they tried to preserve their freedom.
The park may be one of the most photogenic places in Kansas. The contrasts between the vertical rock canyons, gargantuan green trees and clear blue water glow at dawn and dusk. The park offers a melting pot of western and eastern species of wildlife for those who are patient.
Though the park should hold an outdoors lover’s attention for days, there are nearby attractions of merit. The Chalk Pyramids, aka Monument Rocks, rise from the flat prairie like castles of stone about 20 minutes away. Ten miles away, Scott City has museums and a gallery for Jerry Thomas, one of Kansas’ best wildlife and western artists.
Scott City was named one of 10 All-America Cities by the National Civic League in 2011. Mention you’re around for the park and you’ll find most ready to talk about one of their communities most prized possessions.
Spend a few hours there and you’ll understand why.