CEDAR BLUFF RESERVOIR — Years of experience have provided Steve Seibel the knowledge to know when things are going to get busy.
And the park manager at Cedar Bluff State Park knows things are about to pick up — in a big way.
The Memorial Day holiday offers one of the first true weekends of lake-living lifestyles for outdoor-goers. Thousands are expected to flock to the largest body of water in northwest Kansas this holiday weekend.
That’s just fine with Seibel. He’s become accustomed to the busyness the reservoir provides.
“We’ll have a busy fall with hunters coming in, then it will taper off at the end of December and early January,” he said. “The first part of April, we’ll get hit with fishermen. … Then from about June 1 to the time school starts, the recreational use will hit hard.”
Seibel has been at Cedar Bluff for the last 23 years. He’s also aware it is the 65th anniversary of the completion of the reservoir.
Severe drought limited the success of dryland farming in the 1930s in western Kansas.
The Bureau of Reclamation worked with farmers and others to help find a way to develop reliable irrigation, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation website.
In the early 1940s, the bureau began a hard look at developing the Cedar Bluff Project before putting plans on hold due to World War II.
More investigation began in 1945, and pre-construction activity began in 1946, according to the website.
On Sept. 29, 1951, the construction contract was accepted as complete — more than a year ahead of schedule.
The original intent of the reservoir was to aid in irrigation and help with flood prevention. In the mid-1990s, though, the specialized irrigation district disbanded.
Today, the reservoir serves mainly as a recreational outlet and flood control device. It also provides water for cities located downstream.
“Now it’s more recreational use,” Seibel said, “and water storage for the city of Russell when they call on it. The state of Kansas basically has the rest of it.”
Seibel said the state park has an average of 370,000 visitors per year, and many were flocking to the reservoir well in advance of the holiday weekend.
Justin Gemaehlich, Dodge City, and a few of his family members were enjoying a recent sunny day on one of the newer docks on the north shore.
“Me and my grandpa and uncle just came out fishing,” he said. “We highly enjoy it. We’ve come up here for many, many years — just for the fishing and the atmosphere.”
Recent rains in the region have helped bring the reservoir up, but it’s still well shy of full capacity.
Seibel said the last time the reservoir was considered “full” was in 2004. Since, it’s dropped steadily each year, and loses 30 to 36 inches a year to evaporation.
“We’re up about 11 inches,” Seibel said in early May. “The rains out west were not as heavy as between here and Hays. It’s a long drainage, but really narrow. We’ve got to have it right along the Smoky (River) to help.”
The park has continued to make improvements each year, but Seibel said work soon will be put on hold because of the influx of visitors. There simply won’t be time to work on projects with a busy slate of events and activities.
He knows the low cost for people to enjoy the water is enticing.
“We’re a lot cheaper compared to a lot of other state parks like our neighbors in Oklahoma and Nebraska,” Seibel said. “I know we’re not Yosemite National Park, but we offer some great things.”
And continued growth as well. The park features cabins that are available for rent, and there’s been an abundance of private cabin development near the park’s north entrance.
The park also has added new playground equipment and multiple enhancements for campers and RVs.
“It’s a completely different park than it was 20 to 25 years ago,” Seibel said.
All those aspects are what keeps Kyle Rohleder, WaKeeney, and his friends and family heading to the reservoir when the opportunity arises.
“It’s 20 minutes and you’re there,” Rohleder said. “As far as campgrounds, they’re always improving that. They’re always trying to make it better from that aspect. There’s new pavement for camper stalls.”
Rohleder recently sold his Jet Ski, and now is being pressured by his wife to buy a boat. It’s one of the perks he faces living so close to the water.
A friend of his in southwest Kansas, he said, has to drive nearly three hours to reach a large body of water.
“It’s the only decent size lake in western Kansas to go to,” Rohleder said about Cedar Bluff.
It’s becoming a family destination as well.
“Ninety percent of the customers who come out are family friendly,” Seibel said. “Not a lot of partiers come out. It’s great to see families and kids. It’s becoming a family getaway for us.”