Scattered from the high plains of far western Kansas to the Ozark-like woodlands tight to the Missouri border, these lakes created by men battling their way through the Great Depression have benefited many.
Mostly with shovels and mules, the men created lakes in the bottom of deep, peaceful valleys. They became places where people could catch bass and crappie from the water while camping or picnicking on the shore. They’re some of Kansas’ most beautiful waters, with 80 years worth of trees growing along the shorelines. They’re places where millions of memories have been made.
For the thousands of men who built the lakes, as well as other Kansas projects for the Civilian Conservation Corps, it gave them jobs when almost none could be had, as well as food and a place to sleep, said Tod Bevitt, an archeologist/historian from the town of Overbrook.
Here are five of their works that live on as some of the prettiest lakes in Kansas.
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155 miles east of Wichita, on Highway 7
This 150-acre lake about 12 miles north of Pittsburg, and its surrounding 630-acre state park, has as much of an Ozark look and feel as about any place in Missouri.
It’s a camper’s dream, offering everything from full-service cabins to primitive sites. All are shrouded in shade with a nice view of the lake.
It has more than seven miles of hiking/biking trails and about two miles of hardened surface trails.
Crawford honors the Conservation Corps workers who created it in several ways. There’s a statue at the park’s entrance and a quarter-mile interpretive trail that’s accessible to those with disabilities as it goes through the original camp for conservation workers. There’s also a museum.
The lake has good fishing, especially for channel catfish, panfish and wipers.
Scott State Fishing Lake and State Park
255 miles from Wichita, west of Highway 83
Some of the Conservation Corps workers must have thought they were coming to a desert when they first arrived, with flat, dry prairie for as far as their eyes could see.
They surely changed their minds when they ended up working within the spring-fed valley about 10 miles north of Scott City.
The 100 acre, spring-fed lake they helped create is surrounded by what’s truly a legendary state park.
National Geographic once rated Lake Scott State Park as one of the 50 best state parks in the nation. Active Times online magazine ranked it 23rd, of the more than 7,500 state parks in the nation, for scenic beauty.
The park offers a variety of camping options, including cabins that require reservations far in advance.
Several miles of hiking trails go from near the lake’s shore across cactus, sagebrush flats and up steep, rocky bluffs.
There is a swimming area and good fishing for largemouth bass, panfish, channel catfish and walleye.
Clark State Fishing Lake
165 miles west of Wichita, South of Highway 54
Conservation Corps workers found themselves at the edge of the Dust Bowl region torched terribly by years of drought. There was surely blowing dirt, baking summer heat and bone-chilling cold.
But at least they were working in one of the most beautiful valleys in Kansas.
Steep rock bluffs rise hundreds of feet above what’s now a 300-acre lake.
It’s still a long ways to anywhere for supplies. Ashland is 15 miles away. Campsites ring the lake, but there are no utilities. A hiking trail winds through the same kind of prairie the workers found 80 years ago.
The desolation makes Clark a photographer’s dream, with so many broad views. Bird watchers often make good finds on western birds such as roadrunners and golden eagles.
It has a boat ramp, though all water sports, like swimming, skiing or tubing are prohibited. Largemouth bass go to six pounds, and there’s a good population of channel catfish. The lake has a nice population of white bass and some walleye.
For information call the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism office in Dodge City at 620-227-8209.
60 miles northeast of Wichita, west of Highway 77
In a nice Flint Hills valley, this 300-acre property is about two miles south of Marion, and shouldn’t be confused with the much larger Marion Reservoir.
In the 1930s the dam and surrounding area were built by several hundred Conservation Corps troops who were black veterans of WW1. The lake covers 153 acres.
Unlike most lakes in Kansas, much of Marion County Lake is rimmed with private homes, but there’s plenty of places for the general public to play.
The lake has three boat ramps. If you’re taking your boat you must get it inspected for invasive zebra mussels at the lake’s office. The fine for non-compliance is $1,000.
Numerous docks jut from the shores. Some were privately built, but can be accessed unless the owner requests that you leave.
Fishing can be good for bass, channel catfish and bluegill. The lake has some huge flatheads but they aren’t often caught.
The lake office rents canoes and paddleboats. There is a disc golf course. The lake has no special hiking or biking trails, but it is ringed with a paved road, with gravel trails lacing back and forth to the shoreline.
Swimming and water skiing are allowed at certain times, though blue-green algae outbreaks sometimes close the lake for in-water sport.
Owned by Marion County, the lake has its own set of rules, which differ from most state lakes. Signs posted at the lake explain the rules.
100 miles northeast of Wichita, east of Highway 99
This 135-acre lake sits at the eastern edge of the Flint Hills, about 12 miles northeast of Emporia. Most of the surrounding 440 acres are pristine tall grass prairie.
The lake has primitive camping, but fishing is the main draw. It has seven fishing piers, several islands and a good boat ramp. There are lots of flooded weeds for those who like to catch fish on top-water lures.
It’s one of the state’s best public largemouth bass fisheries.
Lyon also is one of only two public waters in Kansas where anglers have a chance at catching northern pike.
The fishing for bluegill near shore can be good. Like most Kansas lakes, Lyon has good fishing for channel catfish.
For more information go to ksoutdoors.com.