ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Driving by Marion Reservoir on a hot summer day, it’s evident that a lot of people use the water for recreational purposes.
But just like the Kansas Highway Patrol tries to make state highways safe for motorists, Marvin Peterson tries keep the lake safe for boaters and all who use it.
“You’re pretty apt to get checked when you’re on Marion Reservoir,” said Peterson, a 20-year veteran conservation officer for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. “My main focus is to provide a safe environment for those who use the reservoir.”
Peterson has statewide jurisdiction, but focuses on his district, which includes Marion, Morris and Harvey counties.
“I share Morris County with an officer out of Chase County and Harvey County with an officer from Butler County,” Peterson said.
Peterson, a graduate of Bethany College, has gone through the standard law enforcement training to enable him to carry a weapon.
“I have to maintain a current law enforcement certification and that means 40 hours of training per year,” he said. “The program I’ve gone through is similar to any regular law enforcement officer in the state.”
Originally, Peterson devoted much of his time to hunting-related duties, but has seen the focus of his work load shift to boating-enforcement duties.
Peterson has both a jet ski and a boat at his disposal to carry out his job.
“I became a certified law officer in 1990 and I’ve had a jet ski since 1992,” Peterson said. “The jet ski is great for when I work by myself.
“It’s a lot easier to detain a boat with the jet ski as opposed to the big boat,” he said. “You pretty much have to have someone help you when you come up to another boat when you’re in the boat.
“Plus the jet ski can cover about three times as much area as the boat,” he added. “You can just go right from one check to the next.
“The jet ski is a quick machine to get on the water in case of a water emergency,” Peterson said. “We are trained to do water rescues from jet skis, too.”
Peterson said his boat is “pretty well identified,” but the jet ski just says “law enforcement” on the bow.
“It doesn’t have the lights and siren like the boat does, simply because it’s logistically impossible.”
Peterson’s duties on the water are as varied as the recreational enthusiasts he regulates.
“I would say that my primary concern at this time is boating safety,” he said.
Peterson said two violations are most common in his day-to-day checks.
“Expired boat registrations are the first violation, and people not having enough personal flotation devices (PFDs) for the number of persons on the boat is the other,” he said.
“The one infraction that bothers me the most is children 12 and under who don’t have a PFD on.”
State law requires that “all boats have one type of PFD of proper size, in serviceable condition, not in an enclosed compartment, and readily accessible for each person on board or being towed.”
Peterson said the law states children 12 and under must be wearing their PFD at all times.
“I’ve come upon infants and small children that don’t have life jackets on,” he said. “It doesn’t work if you don’t wear it.”
Peterson said some people have PFDs with them, but they aren’t accessible-which is a violation.
“I really wish the law would be changed so that everyone has to wear a PFD,” he said. “Of the drownings I’ve worked, several of them would have probably been avoided if the victims would have been wearing their life jacket.
“I wear mine all the time and it’s really not that big of a deal.”
Another duty Peterson performs is checking boaters who are possibly driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“I’m allowed to give sobriety checks-and the law is the same as when driving a passenger vehicle,” he said. “Blood-alcohol levels must be below .08 percent.”
Peterson said he’s optimistic that his long hours and persistency are paying off.
“Compliance rates here at the reservoir are very high and people are really pretty safety conscious,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s so much due to my outstanding work, but we’ve been working in conjunction with the Corps of Engineers rangers, and we do a lot together.
“We’ve made a pretty sound statement that we will be around.”
Another aspect of Peterson’s job deals with the rules and regulations about fishing at Marion Reservoir.
“Fishing without a license is a violation and I’ll write a notice to appear in court,” he said. “On severe illegal fishing instances, we certainly would take equipment-anything used in the commission of a crime can be seized.
“Technically, if you’re fishing without a license, I can take your fishing pole and tackle, but we determine each instance on an individual basis.”
Peterson also checks to make sure fish taken from the reservoir are of legal size, but said reservoir length-limits vary.
He said his most memorable seizure wasn’t related to boating or fishing, but rather to drugs and drug paraphernalia.
“We saw suspicious activity on the shore and we ended up making a pretty big bust,” he said.
Peterson also noted the algae bloom that threatened area water supplies caused added responsibilities to his job.
“I monitor water quality at the reservoir and also the fish population, so I’ve been pretty active in the algae-bloom situation,” he said.
“The bloom has definitely hurt our visitation numbers.”
Peterson said he enjoys the uncertainty that comes with his job. Each day brings its unique challenges.
“I never know what’s going to happen next,” he said. “It can be the most boring job in the world one minute, and it can become the most exciting job in the next.
“There have been actual instances where I’ve physically saved someone’s life,” he said. “That makes me feel good about my job.”