Marion County Lake director would like to reopen store for convenience of visitors
Since 2017, when former county lake superintendent Steve Hudson resigned his position, the lake has had no bait shop. Anglers have had to go elsewhere.
A bait vending machine installed in 2018 sits empty.
Lake superintendent Isaac Hett said he’d like to have a bait shop and convenience store at the lake for campers and anglers.
It would also be a draw for visitors who will no longer have to drive to Marion, or further, for things they need to enjoy during a weekend at the lake.
“It used to run as a private business under the previous superintendent,” Hett said.
Some fishing and boating needs can be purchased in Marion.
Ace Hardware carries fishing supplies such as rods, reels, and nets, night crawlers, and some RV and boat items.
Coyote Crossing bait shop carries an assortment of bait and tackle merchandise. It can special order items and have them within two days.
Carlson’s Grocery offers night crawlers and minnows along with a full line of groceries.
Cenex also offers night crawlers.
“I would like to see if we could have the live bait in here,” Hett said. “That would be awesome. The way it is now, we ask people not to bring in live bait from another location. A great way to get rid of that problem is to sell bait ourselves.”
Besides live bait, Hett said he wants to sell cold drinks, charcoal, lighter fluid, and a supply of convenience foods such as sandwiches.
Greg Carlson, co-owner of Carlsons’ Grocery in Marion, agrees.
Carlson said he enjoys spending time at the lake and that a well-stocked bait shop would be a good thing for lake visitors. Although his store sells minnows, earthworms, and chicken livers, the need for additional bait, such as goldfish, is clear to him. He’s seen people have to drive to Newton to buy goldfish for the lake.
His own business benefits when the lake has a lot of campers and anglers.
“The bigger draw out there, the better for everybody here, the gas stations, groceries — I’m sure Dollar General benefits a lot,” Carlson said.
Carlson said his store attracts lake visitors who wait to do their shopping in Marion instead of packing food from their homes.
“I think the bait shop would be amazing,” Carlson said. “It’s going to take from my business, but I’d be willing to help him stock it. It’s been a fixture out there for years.”
Hett said when he was hired in March of 2018 he talked to commissioners about wanting to reopen the bait shop, but commissioners had gotten complaints about county employees running a privately-owned business on taxpayer time.
Commissioners have shown some interest since then, agreeing to purchase the bait vending machine and a limited supply of tackle now for sale in the lake office.
The tackle supply is so limited that customers often tell him it appears the store is closing down.
Hett also said with three full-time employees including him, running a county-owned bait shop would not cause a staffing problem.
Camping has been up this summer because other lakes are closed because of blue-green algae, Hett said.
“Really every weekend in June we have been completely full.” he said. “That’s all of our camping sites with electric hookups. Our primitive sites, I’ve had some open but they’ve pretty much been filled.”
Marion business owners have told him good business at the lake has meant for good business at retailers.
“Our goal is to figure out what we can do to bring business to our lake,” Hett said. “There are probably some easy things that we are missing to help bring people here.”
Other ideas Hett has include showing movies at the lake, as was done in the past; holding Frisbee golf tournaments; and enticing a restaurant to locate near the lake for visitors who want a nearby meal.