Two years after taking over the marina at Cheney State Park, Kevin and Stephanie O’Brien are all in. As in, they’ve sold the chain of five KAPS convenience stores they owned to focus full time on O’Brien’s Marina.
“We had a motivated buyer show up on our doorstep,” Kevin O’Brien said. “We’d had a couple summers running the marina. We thought, ‘What the heck, let’s go ahead and say goodbye to that.’”
Working with their landlord, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, the couple have changed a lot more than just the marina’s name.
Approached by the state in May 2016, the O’Briens could do little more than put a “temporary band-aid” on the place that first year. “We just kind of ran the store, cleaned it all up, put in some items.”
At the close of that season, remodeling of the 4,500-square-foot space began with new ceilings, walls, roof, walk-ins and counters. “Inside the interior, I think there’s one wall that’s still original. Everything else is brand new.”
The marina store offers beverages, groceries, some ready-made food and numerous items for camping and fishing, from live bait and anchors to oars, lubricants and ropes. New fuel pumps went in this year — one on water and one on land — along with 86 boat slips.
“The lake has just been extremely busy this year,” O’Brien said. “I know traffic counts on the lake are up and usage of camping grounds, they’re sold out on a weekly basis. We’ve sold more parking permits and fishing licenses, almost four times what we did last year.”
That’s quite a change from the early part of this decade, when the lake’s shoreline receded some 200 yards. The lake refilled, and the lower water level might have helped kill off zebra mussels that had become an issue, O’Brien said.
Today, Cheney is known for “phenomenal” fishing for walleye, crappie and channel catfish, along with sailing, skiing, tubing and just general cruising, O’Brien said. The state is building three cabins on the east shore to go with nine on the west side.
“We’re excited to be part of it coming back,” said O’Brien, who lives in the Cheney area. “That’s the comment a lot of people make. They saw this lake slowly fading away.”
Although “not really boaters” themselves, the couple have bought two pontoon boats to rent out. They signed a long-term lease with the state this year and have more improvements planned, including a full kitchen and conference facility capable of serving 150 people.
“We’re having fun with the slogan ‘We’re bringing lakin’ back,’” O’Brien said.
O’Brien’s Marina at Cheney State Park
Address: 9912 S. Titan, Cheney
Owner: Kevin and Stephanie O’Brien