After two years of drought, extreme heat and blue-green algae outbreaks, state park personnel are hoping for better weather and better attendance this spring and summer.
Managers at the two state parks closest to Wichita said they actually found some good from the bad conditions left from last year.
Cheney State Park
“We took advantage of some opportunities we may never again see in our lifetime,” said Ryan Stucky, Cheney State Park manager, said of record low-water levels. “The only other time Cheney was this low was when they were filling it, when it was first made.”
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Stucky said the lake spent most of the winter about 7 1/2 feet below normal, though it rose about five inches after recent snows and rain.
The lake has one usable boat ramp, by the marina on the east side of the lake.
“We’d had some damage to our boat ramps, and this was really our first opportunity to fix them,” Stucky said. “We were able to pour some more concrete.”
The receding shoreline also allowed Stucky’s staff to access areas that have needed attention.
“We’ve about cleaned up all of the debris from the tornado in 2005,” he said. “We got a lot done on our shore stabilization projects, where we can’t normally work when the lake’s full.”
Repairs were also done on some damaged campsites normally near the water’s edge. Now, Stucky said, heavy equipment can access such places without getting stuck.
Park staff has also worked at identifying and removing the many trees that have died after two years of drought. They will eventually be replaced.
Such work has made the park, and the park’s budget, both look a bit better, too.
“The nice thing is that cleaning up is something that doesn’t really cost a lot,” Stucky said. “We only spent $2,700 (mostly for concrete) to fix the boat ramps.”
Though it doesn’t involve park personnel or funds, Stucky said the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Cheney Reservoir, will use the low water time to refurbish an 800-foot-long jetty and install a covered fishing dock.
El Dorado State Park
Seth Turner, El Dorado State Park manager, said his lake is currently down about 4 1/2 feet, with five of the seven ramps in the state park open for use. Four of which can handle a boat of about any normal size.
Still, park ranger Randy Just said they hope to bring in some equipment to reach out and deepen the water at the base of the ramps while they have the opportunity.
During a tour Thursday morning, Just and maintenance supervisor Aaron Groom noted some areas to be fixed before visitation numbers spike in a few weeks.
At several places, the low water lets them deal with problems left by Kansas’ largest rodent.
“That would be from a beaver,” Groom said, as he looked at a hole about 18 inches at the edge of a boat ramp. “They can really do a lot of damage when they dig into banks, and under docks and ramps.”
Turner said his staff spent much of this winter building a new archery range near the start of the Teter Nature Trail, just south of the lake’s dam. Funding was provided for by a specific grant from The Mule Deer Foundation.
The range has 11 paved shooting lanes with targets out to 50 yards. Crossbows and broadheads are not allowed.
Most of the shooting is done into square backstops. A raised shooting platform simulates shooting from a tree stand.
A special range for children 14 and under has three dimensional targets of a whitetail buck, an alligator and a dinosaur. Turner said a state park permit is needed to park in the range’s parking lot, but not for shooting.
There’s no charge for using the range, though a metal drop box collects donations for the range’s upkeep.
Just hopes to get the dirt between the paved lanes seeded with grass in the near future.
So far the range seems to be a popular addition to the park.
“We were out there plowing snow and we had people out there shooting,” Turner said. “I think people are really going to like it.”