After 25 years living and working in the Pacific Northwest, Kevin McCoy is glad to be back in Kansas and working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Marion Reservoir.
McCoy’s title is assistant lake manager, but that’s a bit misleading, as his responsibilities also include El Dorado Lake.
He started last October, coming from eastern Oregon and a 25-year stint with the federal Bureau of Land Management. McCoy is looking forward to his first full recreational season at the reservoir.
“It’ll be interesting to get to know the people and to see the things people enjoy out here and see where we maybe could make improvements,” he said.
While Marion Cove, Cottonwood Point, Hillsboro Cove, and French Creek Cove campgrounds are longstanding fixtures, the Corps-operated sites got a boost in occupancy right before Memorial Day weekend when the final section of expanded campgrounds at Cottonwood Point.
“We’re open for business from one end to the other,” McCoy said. “A lot of people have been waiting for that to open. It definitely opened up some more elbow room for more clientele.”
Campers have the option of reserving campsites online through recreation.gov, although some spaces are held back for “people who just want to come out and find a spot,” McCoy said.
The online reservation system has advantages for reservoir staff as well as campers.
“It gives us a little window into the future to see what a weekend is going to throw at us,” McCoy said. “I kind of know what’s coming, as do the park rangers that are out patrolling.”
McCoy’s BLM unit in Oregon covered 5.4 million acres of public land.
Working with varied recreation opportunities offered by the reservoir’s 6,000 acres has been a good change, he said.
“To be in a place where the opportunities for the public for camping, fishing, water skiing, horseback riding, hiking, whatever the case may be, you start to realize why public land is cherished by so many people,” he said. “It’s fun to be back where people view public lands with a smile and they’re happy that it’s there.”
As for McCoy, he’s happy to be back near home.
An Ellsworth native who used to explore public lands around Kanopolis, he studied biology at Kansas State University with thoughts of possibly becoming a wildlife biologist.
However, a chance encounter led to a change in direction.
“I bumped into a couple of summer seasonal workers that were working at Wilson Lake,” McCoy said. “They were working for the Corps and I got to know them. They told me about interviewing for a summer job, which I did. I started my career as a park ranger at Wilson.”
When McCoy graduated, he traded Wilson Lake for the lower Snake River in eastern Washington, taking a seasonal position that was a step higher in grade and a month longer.
“It was 1,440 miles for a little more money and a little more time,” he said.
Seven months later, he landed a permanent position with BLM in Oregon.
“I was an outdoor recreation planner, which is kind of a big title for jack-of-all-trades,” McCoy said. “They already knew how to manage their cows and manage their forests. Then they developed the recreation program and put just everything that no one really knew what to do with in it. It was really a great career.”
Covering a vast territory with fewer staff than he has at Marion Reservoir, McCoy’s work involved everything from wilderness and rivers to endangered species and noxious weed infestations.
His son, Kyle, graduated from high school in 2014 and decided to attend K-State. That prompted McCoy to start looking at coming home.
“Being a single dad, one day I woke up and thought, ‘My son’s back here; my family’s back here,’” he said. “I never stopped being a Kansan. I always had a soft spot for the Corps of Engineers. It’s where I started. It was pretty exciting when the opportunity came up to kind of get back to where it all started in the same state with the same agency.”
When it came time to move, it wasn’t hard for McCoy to decide where to live.
“You start looking for a nice, quiet place to live, and Florence had the perfect little place for me,” he said. “It fit all my needs and all my desires, and I really enjoy it. I like quiet. Quiet is good.”
Thanks in part to his staff and regular patrols by sheriff’s deputies, life at the reservoir also is relatively quiet, McCoy said.
“It’s a big sandbox, and we’re all here to have a good time in the same sand box, so we all have to learn to play and camp together in peaceful fashion,” he said. “From everything I hear out here, it hasn’t been much of a problem.”
Overall, McCoy appears to have found a situation that suits him well.
“I’m going to be here a while,” he said. “I enjoy my job. I’ve got some of the best people I’ve ever worked with here. I found the right place to live. It doesn’t get any better than that. With those aspects working for you, you can do just about anything.”