More choosing year-round homes at lake

The combination of a slower life pace and scenic surroundings are luring more and more people to live at Marion County Park and Lake.

For years, the lake has drawn seasonal residents for fishing, boating and general relaxation. Some have owned cabins in which to spend a weekend or a summer, and a few retirees owned permanent homes there.

What’s changing is that the lake is drawing younger families, too, these days-and an increasing number of permanent residents.

Frances Smalley is typical of many of the traditional lake residents. She and her husband, James, bought a lot at the lake back in 1970 while they were still residents in Wichita. For many years, they spent weekends at their cabin.

In 1994, they decided to make their lake property their permanent home. Today she works in the county treasurer’s office.

“I was in a very high-stress job (in Wichita) and when the opening came available in the treasurer’s office, my husband kept on me to go ahead and put an application in and try to get on.

“I was hired, and I did not realize how much stress I was under in Wichita until I came up here,” she said. “We have slowed down and started enjoying things a lot more.”

Today, she is one of three residents to serve on the board for the improvement district that includes the lake and park. During her time of volunteer service, she has seen an increase in the number of houses and the number of young families moving in.

She said the lake area has about 200 homes currently-not counting the 57 mobile homes located in a trailer park near the lake office.

Of those 200 homes, she estimates that more than half are occupied by permanent, year-round residents. The rest continue to be occupied by weekend and seasonal residents.

“There’s a lot of them that come every weekend, some that are up here about all summer long and then in wintertime they spend more time back at their other home,” Smalley said.

The park actually has two parts that are defined by the hard-surface road that circles the lake. Property inside the road is owned and managed by the county-specifically park manager Dale Snelling. That area includes the mobile home park.

All the property outside the circle is privately owned. It comes under the jurisdiction of county zoning regulations and receives its law enforcement services through the county sheriff’s office.

The residential properties were hooked to Rural Water District No. 2 during the mid-1990s. It has its own sewer system and drains into ponds its shares with the city of Marion. The park is served by two utility companies.

“After the water project was completed, there was a fire hydrant within 400 feet of each home,” Smalley said. “That made our fire rating go down and our insurance rates dropped.”

Many of the permanent homes were first built as cabins. Through the years, more and more of the buildings were remodeled into year-round homes. That process continues today.

“There’s always someone building new or adding on,” Smalley said.

Brad Wildin’s grandfather bought a cabin at the lake during the mid-1960s. Wildin bought the cabin from his grandfather in 1974 and he and his wife, Jeannie, and their family have lived at the lake ever since. They own and operate the County Seat, a floor-covering business in Marion. Jeannie serves as as the lake’s billing clerk.

Wildin and his father are responsible for the newest housing development that has emerged on the lake’s northeast corner.

The pair bought 14 acres of grassland almost 10 years ago and divided it into 27 lots. Today all 27 lots have been sold and 16 new homes have been built on the acreage, including one for the Wildin family.

“I expected it to be a 10-year project and sold the last lot prior to that,” Wildin said. “Our family did good.”

He said the people attracted to his development come for a lot of the same reasons they always have come to the county lake: the peaceful and beautiful surroundings.

“I do not live where I can see the water, but I still find it very peaceful-away from the roads and highway,” he said. “It’s a place where you can relax more.”

He said the development has attracted a range of ages, from young families to those who have retired from the work force.

In recent years, a few other people have presented plans for additional housing developments at the lake, according to Smalley, but none so far have made the decision to jump in.

Wildin said people have the notion that living at the lake requires a substantial investment. But he said homes around the lake are comparable in price to homes in the city of Marion nearby.

Smalley said the lake has been an attractive retirement area for professionals from the cities over the years.

She felt that has perhaps affected the cost of housing.

“If they want it, whatever the price is, they’re going to get it,” she said. “One person said he knew he was paying too much, but he told me he liked the view.”

She and Wildin agreed that available properties move fast at the lake.

“When a house comes up for sale, it usually doesn’t last on the market too long,” Smalley said.

Could it be that at some point the serenity of the lake might attract too many people and spoil it?

“I haven’t heard anyone belly-ache about all the people out here,” Smalley said. “I think there are a few people who may feel like, ‘This is my lake, or our lake.’ But it’s not our lake. It’s a county lake. It’s for the whole county-plus others.”

She said the slower pace is still alive and well.

“You don’t have time to talk to your neighbors in Wichita, but here it slows down and you can talk to your neighbors,” she said. “You go into town, and people there are very friendly and easy to talk to. It’s a just friendly neighborhood.

“I like it here,” she added. “We wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

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