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Lake activities bring people, dollars to county

News editor

Marion County Park and Lake Superintendent Steve Hudson isn’t only a caretaker of the facility, he’s a salesman.

“It’s a hidden gem out here,” Hudson said. “We need to really promote our lake. My goal is to try to bring out-of-county revenue into the county.”

To that end, what was once a fishing, swimming, and picnic destination primarily for area residents now offers a variety of activities that attract out-of-county people to the lake.

Activities in conjunction with Marion’s Old Settlers’ Day celebration Sept. 27 reflect the lake’s diverse drawing power. Hudson expects an influx of campers for the weekend. There’s a fun run that morning, and a free concert that evening. The lake hall will host out-of-towners attending class reunions.

One of the biggest recent activities was a bluegrass concert in June. Hudson said around 500 people attended.

When Hudson became superintendent in 2007, he brought a promoter’s attitude to the job.

“I grew up in a tourist town, Colorado Springs, Colorado,” Hudson said. “The largest part of our business was tourism. The more people we have, the more people spend.”

The natural resources of the lake provide visitors with ample camping and water recreation activities, and picturesque combination of trees, grasslands, and rolling terrain make positive impressions on new visitors, Hudson said.

“The people who stay here for the first time, nine times out of 10 they come back because they love the lake,” he said.

Built during the Great Depression and opened to the public in 1940, fishers are attracted by the diversity of species found in the lake.

“It’s really good fishing out here, it offers a lot of variety,” Hudson said, including walleye, saugeye, crappie, white bass, largemouth bass, spotted bass, wipers, sunfish, bluegill, channel and flathead catfish, and drum. A spotted bass caught at the lake in 1977 set a state record that still stands.

Overnight camping sites bring in a mix of tents and recreational vehicles. The lake offers RV owners an option that makes return visits more likely.

“They can store their RV out here for $15 a month,” Hudson said. “They come for two weekends a month to camp, then they put it back in storage. I think this year’s our biggest number, at least a dozen of them.”

The lake is a favorite destination for young campers as well.

“Boy Scout troops from Wichita, El Dorado, and Arkansas City come out to spend weekends and do community service, like trash pickup,” Hudson said. “We don’t charge them, but they’re still spending money in the county.”

Others come for events staged at the lake. Coming up Oct. 4 is the 8th annual lake chili cook-off, which for the first time will be paired with an open-class car show. Two other county-sponsored events are a memorial crappie fishing derby in March and the bluegrass concert in June.

Hudson said additional non-sponsored events bring out-of-county people to the lake.

“There are a lot of others that do things out here,” Hudson said. “A group from Newton had a triathlon out here last weekend. We’ve had a folk music club here, charity runs like Run for Your Momma, the American Legion fish fry, paddleboat races, and a summer’s end concert, a band out of El Dorado who wants to play at no cost. We provide facilities for people to do other things out here.”

An often-overlooked attraction at the lake is the small museum west of the lake office that has books, pictures, and artifacts related to lake history.

“There’s a lot of books and pictures,” Hudson said. “You could almost spend a whole day reading the literature, looking at plans and maps.

The museum doesn’t have regular hours, but visitors can check out a key at the lake office, Hudson said.

“If you like what you see, there’s a donation jar in there,” he added.

For more information about facilities and activities, contact the lake office at (620) 382-3240.

Last modified Sept. 17, 2014

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