Blue Water Trail opens Saturday

Jessica Williams paddles the new Blue Water Trail in one of five kayaks Cross Timbers State Park will loan the public.
Jessica Williams paddles the new Blue Water Trail in one of five kayaks Cross Timbers State Park will loan the public. The Wichita Eagle

CROSS TIMBERS STATE PARK — Nature lovers have long hiked assorted trails to appreciate the distinct natural beauty around Toronto Lake.

Beginning Saturday, they'll be able to canoe and kayak the lake's new Blue Water Trail, Kansas' first aquatic interpretive trail that is one part of the Toronto Lake 50th anniversary celebration at Cross Timbers State Park.

The lake and state park are west of Yates Center and about 80 miles east of Wichita.

Kimberly Jones, Cross Timbers State Park manager, hopes the new trail and others planned will be popular for years.

"It should give people a chance to utilize parts of the lake where motor boats can't normally access," Jones said of the trail's use of a long, shallow stretch of Moon's Cove.

Like those already popular in several other states, Jones said the park's new floating trail has 15 signs along the way to point out things such as rock formations and fauna. The park will provide interpretive booklets.

Jones said much of the equipment and creation of the Blue Water Trail was funded by a National Recreational Trails Grant from the Federal Highway Administration.

About 20 members of the Kansas Canoe and Kayak Association and their watercraft will help with tours Saturday.

Private watercraft is welcome, and the park's fleet of five kayaks will be available after Saturday. Use of the kayaks is free but reservations are encouraged.

Jones said canoeing or kayaking the trail takes one to two hours.

The 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. event is based out of the Toronto Point Campground portion of Cross Timbers State Park at the lake. The usual daily admission fee has been waived for the event.

When opened in 1960, Toronto Lake was one of the first federal reservoirs in Kansas and the only one in the state's narrow Cross Timbers region.

Also known as the Chautauqua Hills, the region is where eastern woodlands meet tall grass prairie. Cross Timbers State Park has plenty of both.

As she checked a hiking trail Monday morning, Jones walked past blooming wild flowers and big bluestem grass nearly 7 feet tall.

Closer to the lake, the woodlands feature a variety of trees and brush including oaks several hundred years old.

The area is known for its sandstone bluffs and small caves.

Jones said all 15 miles of the park's hiking trails will be open Saturday.

A pancake breakfast and lunch will be served for $5 each. The day ends with dinner of bison and elk burgers and a concert. Dinner and the concert are free.

Clay target and archery shooting will be available with certified instructors. Kids programs include minnow races, wildlife displays, face painting and games.

At 9 a.m. Jones and staff will dedicate a plaque at the beginning of the park's Ancient Trees Trail to Doyle Niemeyer.

Manager of the park for about 18 years, Niemeyer was a pioneer in promoting the region.

He died in 2008.

"Doyle originally got the idea for the Blue Water Trails in 2002 or 2003 when he was at a trails conference in Texas and saw what they were doing," Jones said. "These things take time but I'm glad we're finally getting them going. Hopefully we can continue to do more."

For information about Saturday's celebration or to reserve kayaks, call 620-637-2213.

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