Traveling down U.S. Highway 83, fourteen miles north of Scott City, Kan., one finds themselves surrounded by the typical Western Kansas scenery; farm land and cattle mixed with pastures and the occasional farm-yard. When one makes the turn down Kansas Highway 95, however, the landscape changes drastically. The feeling of semi-desolation among the productive fields and wide open spaces gives way to a lush green valley. Turkeys and whitetail deer often inhabit the bottom lands of this path toward Lake Scott State Park, a fertile oasis to people living in the area since the Taos people built their pueblo in the park in 1664.
The natural springs that feed the 93-acre lake and craggy bluffs surrounding the water give a unique feel to history buffs visiting the El Cuartelejo pueblo ruins, anglers chasing trophy walleye and many more outdoor enthusiasts looking for a unique landscape.
“It’s the only body of water in western Kansas, and it’s like you go into your own ecosystem when you drive down 95.” Greg Mills, Lake Scott Park Manager, said. “All of a sudden it’s lush and green and there’s species in here that you just don’t see normally. There’s even one species here that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.”
The Lake Scott Riffle Beetle is an insect with its own genus species and a sensitive population that inhabits a very small part of the park.
Among the natural qualities of the area, Lake Scott lies in a historically vibrant place. According to the Kansas Historical Society, After the dam broke in 1933, the lake was saved by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The original dam, built in 1930, broke after torrential rainfall in the area, risking the loss of the recently created state park. Governor Alf Landon suggested the CCC take on the project.
The history of the area starts long before the CCC, however. The El Cuartelejo pueblo ruins discovered in 1889 are the northernmost pueblo ruins in North America. According to Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism documents, the Taos people originally settled the site with the Plains Apache, already living in the area, in 1664. For more on El Cuartelejo, refer to the complementary graphic accompanying this story.
According to KDWPT documents, a group of the Cheyenne tribe, led by Chief Dull Knife and Little Wolf, escaped from a reservation near Fort Reno, Okla. on Sept. 9 1878. Lt. Col. William H. Lewis, the commander of Fort Dodge at the time, tracked the group to battle canyon just south of Lake Scott State Park. In the ensuing battle on Sept. 27, 1878, Lt. Col. Lewis died en route to Fort Wallace after being shot in the battle.
In 1888, Herbert Steele settled in what would become the park. The Steele’s first home was a one room dugout. The family later updated to the four room house that still stands today. Visitors can tour the home on weekends in the summer. The Steele’s homestead became a recreation area in 1928 when the Kansas Forestry, Fish and Game Commission bought the 1,280 acres of land that became Lake Scott State Park.
“The fishing is outstanding for as small amount of water as we have,” Mills said. “Numerous seven-plus pound walleye come out of this lake.”
The fishery at Lake Scott features crappie, walleye, largemouth bass, channel catfish, bluegill, stocked rainbow trout and recently released saugeye. Mills said KDWPT released saugeye in Lake Scott to help control the crappie population that has grown to large keeping fish from reaching their potential sizes.
Walleye, although a trophy fish of the lake, are not easy to catch. With 20 years of fishing experience at Lake Scott, Jon Crane, local angler and teacher, enjoys the challenge the lake provides.
“The Walleye can be found in moderate numbers.” Crane said. “There’s a modest number of Walleye in the three to seven pound range, but it is somewhat of a trophy walleye lake historically, for a 100-acre lake.”
Crane’s best fish, caught last July, is a seven-pound, 27-inch walleye. In his 20 years on the water at Lake Scott, Crane has caught about 20 walleye from four to seven pounds in size.
“It grows some great five to seven pound walleye, but they aren’t easy to catch,” Crane said. “Big walleye aren’t an everyday thing, but a lot of times in the spring, parts of the summer and fall crank-baits and jigs can work on the weed line at the dam.”
The park also provides great opportunities for camping. Mills said the park welcomes approximately 150,000 visitors in the typical year. To accommodate these visitors, the park offers 55 utility campsites for RVs and campers, two modern shower houses and 175 primitive campsites. During the summer months the Beach House sells concessions throughout the summer.
“The lake is definitely a big draw for our area,” Jennifer Turner, Scott Country Travel and Tourism director, said. “A lot of people come for the fishing, but just the beauty of the lake and having it close by in Western Kansas gives people the chance to take part in many different activities.”
Lake Scott State Park is off the beaten path for most outdoors enthusiasts in the state of Kansas, but it provides a unique backdrop for many outdoor activities.
“I think people see us as just a fishing lake.” Mills said. “What they don’t realize is you can come here and rent the cabin, go trout fishing and the next morning you can get up and drive a quarter-mile to walleye fish or deer hunt. You can do a bit of everything.”
TREVOR GRAFF, host: Greg Mills has been with the Department of Wildlife and Parks for 12 years.
GREG MILLS: It would be everything. An electrician, a plumber, a carpenter, a fisheries guy, a wildlife guy, and I could spend 40 hours a week on a mower and not get caught up.
GRAFF: Mills’ duties as park manager are expansive. He explains the importance of water maintenance.
MILLS: This is our water system. We have three pressure tanks. We have to chlorinate our own water, because we’re on our own wells. During the on season you have to do water tests twice a month. If you don’t pass the test. It’s very important, because if you don’t pass you have to mark your lake’s water as not potable. So this is the most important part. If we ever let our water system go down, it would basically shut our park down.
GRAFF: Patrolling the park, assisting guests and maintenance are a few of Mills’ many roles.
MILLS: The absolute best of the job, to me, is either doing youth hunts or watching a kid camp for the first time or catch their first fish. They jump up and down, you get to high-five them. The worst of the job are the law enforcement situations we’ve had to deal with. In my short career, I’ve had one fatality, several domestics, three major automobile accidents and that is the absolute worst of my job.