• Last modified 361 days ago (May 31, 2023)


Reservoir keeps busy with visitors trying to escape the busy life

Staff writer

Campers at Marion Reservoir have 253 spots to choose from, but there’s only one that will do for Billy and Debby Willis.

That’s campsite No. 30 at Cottonwood Point.

They’ve set up their camper there for 19 years and counting.

“We like this view,” Debby said.

The couple from Burrton claimed their campsite May 15 and were set to leave Sunday. Campsites are available for 14 days at a time.

The reservoir, between Marion and Hillsboro and managed by the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers, features 6,200 acres of water surrounded by 6,000 acres of public land. Campsites are spread out between four parks — Cottonwood Point, Hillsboro Cove, Marion Cove, and French Creek Cove.

The Willises devote their time at the reservoir to relaxing.

“We like to hang out and look at the lake and visit around the fire,” Debby said. “The grandkids like to skip rocks.”

Their daughter has a kayak, and their son-in-law fishes in catch-and-release fashion.

Campsite No. 30 includes a covered picnic table, which is another reason the couple prefers the spot. On a recent evening, they were fixing to make a smorgasbord of meats — ribs, pork chops, brats, and hamburgers — with a dessert made in a Dutch oven.

As soon as they arrive, they set to work making the campsite theirs, hanging colorful lights and adorning the picnic table with a tablecloth.

Lights, flags, and signs are hallmarks of camping life.

“I have to have my lights up,” Debby said.

The couple visits other lakes as well throughout the summer — Cheney Reservoir, Milford Reservoir, and Melvern Lake.

Topeka residents Ron and Eva Gentry take their camper around the state as well.

They visited Marion Reservoir for the first time last week.

“We try to go to lakes that we haven’t been to before,” Ron said as his wife read and relaxed in a hammock.

They bought their camper three years ago and try to camp about every other weekend.

“It was something to do during COVID,” Ron said.

Gentry set up a mesh tent to use as a movie theater for their 7-year-old twin granddaughters.

He and his wife don’t fish, but he loves hiking.

“Whatever lake I’m at, I’ll hike around,” he said.

The couple starts camping in March and usually stays out until October.

James and Heather Worthan of Wichita have been campers for 30 years — in tents for all but the past couple of years.

They set up May 18 at Marion Reservoir and planned to leave before Memorial Day weekend. They’d camped at the reservoir two other times — before COVID.

“We don’t generally camp on the holidays,” Heather said.

Friends were camping nearby.

“We just walk around, relax, enjoy,” she said.

Marion County commissioner Kent Becker said he had heard that the number of boaters — primarily people fishing — was up this year compared with last year.

Walleye, crappie, white bass, wipers, and catfish are commonly caught.

“Last Saturday, there were upward of 75 to 100 boats out there,” Becker said. “That’s what I heard — that there’s just been a ton of people.”

That’s good for the county, he said.

“It’s got an economic benefit if they need to stop for fuel or food,” Becker said. “The more people out there, the more impact.”

Kansas Department of Health and Environment issued a warning Thursday about blue-green algae at the reservoir.

Fishing and camping seemed to pick up in April when crappie started to spawn, said Aften Amos, who works at Last Chance Bait Shop.

“We’ve been pretty busy,” she said. “We’ve had lots of boats out here. I’ve seen lots of cars going to Cottonwood Point.”

Last modified May 31, 2023