Reservoir reopening to come none too soon
A county commissioner who planned to complain Monday about ongoing shutdowns at Marion Reservoir was pleasantly surprised to learn the reservoir will reopen in June.
Commissioner Kent Becker voiced his concerns about traffic jams of boaters at the reservoir’s only open ramp at Marion Cove and the continued hit to area businesses during Monday’s county commission meeting.
Commissioners planned to send a letter to officials at the Army Corps of Engineers, but that was before Becker heard the good news.
All campgrounds and available boat ramps will reopen June 1, according to assistant lake manager Kevin McCoy.
“Well, if that’s the case, probably not,” Becker said about the need to send a letter.
McCoy said he was aware of complaints visitors were expressing as warm weather drew more visitors to the reservoir.
“I know that parking has been an issue,” he said. “I also know that time has been an issue when getting in and out of the boat ramp. But it will be June 1 before I can do anything else.”
McCoy said he was glad to hear the public was excited to get back out at the lake and stressed that visitors will still be encouraged to follow safe health practices even while camping.
Swimming areas will not be opened, at this time, but the spill basin on is still open to fishing, McCoy said.
He cautioned that some campsites are still too heavily damaged by last year’s flooding to be safe and urged visitors to keep out of areas that have been barricaded.
Campers are being encouraged to check the availability of sites with the reservoir’s gate attendants.
The biggest change McCoy said visitors should note is that staff will no longer accept cash or checks. All campsite payments must with debit or credit cards.
Honor vaults at French Creek Cove and Marion Cove also will be closed. Campers at French Cove will need to visit Hillsboro Cove’s gate attendants to pay for their site. Visitors to Marion Cove will need to see gate attendants at Cottonwood Point.
“This is to maintain cleanliness,” he said, adding that attendants would wipe debit and credit cards off to sanitize them.
“If you are going to come camping, you need to be prepared to pay with a card,” McCoy said.
A welcome season
Area business are thrilled at the prospect of a renewed tourist season in Marion County after high water shut campsites at the reservoir for 12 months.
“That’s awesome,” said Greg Carlson, co-owner of Carlsons’ Grocery. “Oh, that will help our business a lot. We will look for a lot of campers out this year. Nobody wants to do much else.”
Visitors to the reservoir and Marion County Lake bump his receipts 10% during the summer, a boost that he lost last year, he said.
The grocery has gotten a modest boost, about 5%, during the months Kansans were under stay-at-home mandates in response to COVID-19.
Staff will continue to sterilize carts and wipe down surfaces to keep customers safe.
“Our business has been good,” he said. “We appreciate the patrons that have been here, that are staying home.”
Cindy Gaddis, manager at Ampride, says any increase would be a shot in the arm for stores that lost at least one-third of their business since the middle of March.
Ampride cut hours at both its Marion and Hillsboro locations as foot traffic slowed. The falloff in was really noticeable after students left Hillsboro, she said.
“It is crazy how dependent we are on Tabor,” she said.
Ampride now offers self-serve drinks, but no personal cups or refills are allowed. Sneeze guards went up in March, and the staff has been sanitizing all surfaces.
In the meantime, Gaddis looks forward to a boost in business from visitors to the county.
“I hope it helps a lot,” she said. “I don’t know how much it will exactly. A lot is still up in the air.”
The owners of Last Chance Bait Shop and Storage near the reservoir are enjoying a reversal of fortune after high water at the lake all but shut them down last year.
Gary and Janice Davis say they have been busier than ever after shutdowns mandated to combat COVID-19 left the county’s residents in a mood to go fishing.
The couple received a letter from the state informing them they operate an essential business.
“You can go fishing while socially distancing,” Janice Davis said.
Gary said he was looking forward to helping supply everyone who will be camping.
“The kids have been at home,” he said. “Everybody wants to get out.”