Thanks to concerted efforts of Chat and Dine Club members, Marion County Park and Lake will soon have new bench seats for its concrete and stone picnic tables. Movable picnic tables and a merry-go-round also will have some boards replaced.
Club members have raised $1,800 to put into the project, and club president Donna Kaiser secured an additional $1,000 from county commissioners Monday to cover the balance of the costs. Kaiser said the club hopes to have the work completed for Labor Day weekend lake patrons to enjoy. Kudos, indeed, to them.
However, before committing county dollars to the project, commissioner Dianne Novak suggested that “businesses here in town,” presumably Marion, could adopt a table and pay for the repairs in exchange for having their name burned into the side of a bench.
Perhaps Novak forgot that businesses in Marion, Hillsboro, Peabody, and the rest of the county already have “adopted” the lake by paying property taxes and collecting sales taxes that flow into county coffers. Along with the rest of the county’s taxpaying citizens, they already own the lake and pay for its upkeep.
Perhaps she forgot that the county lake is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which doesn’t count corporate branding among its restoration guidelines, something commissioner Kent Becker was at least insightful enough to point out.
The Kansas Civilian Conservation Corps statue at the lake is a good example of a lake enhancement where external fundraising was the way to go. Spearheaded by Helen and Dwight Beckham, and with Chat and Dine involved, too, $21,000 was raised to erect a memorial to 38,000 CCC members, some of whom built the lake. It wasn’t necessary, but it was a beautiful, inspiring addition accentuating the lake’s history.
But picnic table benches? Chat and Dine Club’s fundraising and volunteer efforts are laudable, but they shouldn’t have had to raise a dime or lift a finger to cover the county’s willful neglect of basic maintenance of an historic landmark.
It’s par for the course for a commission that recently signed off on abandoning another piece of history, the Bowron building in downtown Marion. Past commissioners have long resisted putting money into structural repairs, and the current crew was so eager to get out of it that they agreed to pay rent based on an asking price of $60,000 for a building that their own staff has appraised at $27,230.
Commission chairman Randy Dallke is a holdover from the bunch that would have used inexpensive replacement windows for the courthouse, had the state not nixed the idea because they didn’t meet National Register standards. They deserve credit for trying to save money, but there was little to no appreciation for historic significance, nor for a town trying to use history as a selling point to lure tourists and newcomers.
If the county lake dam sprung a leak, would they fix the historic structure? Or would they instead advertise for some Dutch boys to stick their fingers in it, with the promise of good wages, good benefits, and automatic raises at six months and a year? That wouldn’t be historically accurate, but it would get the job done, at least until the dam collapsed.
It’s high time the lake have a long-term development and maintenance plan. With new lake superintendent Bryan Metz on board, it’s a good time to get to work on one.
Developing it should be a group effort, with people who are invested in preserving the lake’s historic features working in concert with those who have ideas for the future that can enhance its natural draw for tourists and developers. Call it a committee, call it a task force, call it what you will, but a lake that serves many interests and offers many possibilities needs all of them at the table.
Is it possible to hold onto historic 1930s charm while pursuing a path toward 2030s prosperity? Absolutely. It won’t happen haphazardly, but it needs to happen.
— david colburn
Last modified Aug. 10, 2017