Written by Aleen Ratzlaff Tuesday, 14 July 2009 13:52
Steve Hudson has his ideal job—maintaining and promoting a picturesque setting for others to enjoy.
Last month, Hudson began his third year as superintendent of Marion County Park and Lake, located two miles east and 11⁄2 miles south of Marion. The park covers about 300 acres with a 153-acre lake. More than 230 people live at the lake year round.
“It’s a great job—a great atmosphere, I can say that,” Hudson said about being superintendent of the county’s “hidden gem.”
Previously, he was road and bridge foreman for Marion County.
While Hudson’s job involves polishing that gem as a safe and fun recreation area for county residents, he also keeps in mind those who live elsewhere.
“The way I figure, my job is to try to promote this lake as much as we can to draw people in…and bring revenue into the county,” he said.
That means considering the needs of fishing enthusiasts, pleasure boaters and property-tax payers, as well as environmentalists and those concerned with historic preservation of the lake and park, which was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.
“We try to get at least two or three projects done a year that improve those different areas those people are asking about,” he said. “It’s kind of a balancing act on our part, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it.”
Hudson keeps a list of improvements—those already accomplished as well as projects planned for the future. The south boat ramp is now available for public use for boaters to load and unload, and the beach area recently was enhanced with 65 tons of sand.
“I would say one of the big things we’ve gotten done out here was definitely getting the restroom facility located near the heated dock,” he said.
That project was completed in March.
“One thing about it—the guys that are working for me, and myself, we take a lot of pride in what goes on out here,” Hudson said. “When people see us, that (pride) carries on to other people, like the lakeshore owners.”
In fall, Hudson said, he wants to get the Lake Hall insulated. The air-conditioned facility, used during the week and weekends, provides a central place for groups and campers to sing, play music and gather for games.
“It’s a place to get out of the weather when it’s bad, or even when it’s real hot,” he added.
Other proposed projects include adding three fishing piers that are concreted for handicapped accessibility, a storm shelter and new camps with electricity and water. Funding for some projects, such as the piers, can come from grants.
Hudson and his assistant, Brian Thiessen, are the only full-time staff at the lake.
“We have two office part-times and two grounds part-times,” he said. “The office part-times only work when I’m either on vacation or holidays or major events and that kind of thing. But as far as the grounds people, they do part-time summer work.”
As a county employee, Hudson answers to the Board of Commissioners.
“I still have to follow by the rules as far as getting bids on jobs that are over $500 and all that good stuff,” he said.
Upkeep of the park and lake includes mowing, weeding, trimming trees, doing dirt work in the inner circle of Lakeshore Drive and stabilizing the shoreline.
Life at the lake
Hudson, who lives on site with wife Jill and son Brady, grew up in Iowa Springs, Colo., which he refers to as “a tourist town.”
“The only thing we had was the mining industry,” he said. “But the mining industry kind of slowed down a little bit. I realize how important it is—we were right off I-70—to draw people into a certain area or destination for a community to survive.”
As a child, Hudson traveled widely with his parents and credits those experiences as preparing him for his current job.
“I’ve traveled many, many miles with my mom and dad, and we went to many KOA campgrounds and destination spots,” he said. “We’ve been up to Canada three or four times. We traveled a lot, and you learn a lot as you go.”
Primed for fishing
The lake has several fishing docks as well as a heated dock open year-round, 24 hours a day.
“We do not charge anybody to fish out here,” Hudson said. “All you have to have is a state fishing license. I still get people coming out here thinking they have to buy a fishing permit, but none is needed.”
The lake is stocked with various species of fish.
“We’re really known as a white crappie lake,” Hudson said, adding that the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks ranks the lake as fifth in the state for saugeye.
Other popular species include channel and flathead catfish. Hudson said the KDWP anticipates the lake will be a productive bass lake in three to five years.
Zebra mussels threat
Since the infestation of zebra mussels at the Marion Reservoir, Hudson said he’s implemented a mandatory check-in at the lake office for all vessels and carried-in live bait, which carries a $1,000 fine if not compliant.
According to Hudson, authorities say zebra mussels can survive up to five days out of the water.
“Here at the County Lake we’re taking no chances,” he said. “We’re asking for seven days. If people are aware of that, they’ll be educated about it. Then they’ll know that before they bring their boat over here they’ve got to wait seven days to get back out on the water.”
Some people come directly to the county lake after being pulled off at Marion Reservoir because of the windy conditions. When they come to the lake, the staff asks where they’ve been.
Hudson said he’s had good cooperation regarding restrictions because of zebra mussels.
“Nine times out of 10 people say, ‘Oh, that’s great. I’m glad you’re doing that,’ and there’s not a problem,” he said.
Keeping it safe
Public safety is his No. 1 challenge at the lake, Hudson said, adding that it’s vital to make sure the lake can be a safe place for visitors and residents.
Hudson is quick to express his thanks to county employees and businesses for their part in helping him be successful in his job, including support from the director of economic development, brochures from Health and Zoning, materials and equipment from Road and Bridge, bookkeeping by the clerks, and CPR training by the emergency medical staff.
“A lot of this wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t for (other county employees),” Hudson said, adding his appreciation for the support to promote the lake by private businesses in the county.
Hudson readily admits to being an avid fisherman.
“Before I came out here, I was fishing 241 days a year,” he said.
When he can, Hudson gets out to fish in the lake, although in the busy summer season, those times tend to be few and brief.
“I’ll fish in the early morning or late afternoon when things aren’t so busy,” Hudson said. “But being so short staffed, the only places I can really fish…are somewhere where I can keep one eye on (the office).
“I’ll put a ‘10-minute Gone Fishing’ sign over there and when someone pulls in, I’ll come on up and wait on them.”