This map shows Gardner Lake depth according to a 2007bathymetric survey. Dredging would increase lake depth. Graphic courtesy of Kansas Biological Survey
Special to The Gardner News
Michael Kramer, Gardner public works director, will share information about the city’s plans for Gardner Lake at the next meeting of the Gardner Lake Association at 8:30 a.m. on March 28 at the Gardner Senior Center, 128 E. Park Street.
“There is no shortage of talk, and maybe that is what is called for right now,” said Scott Willard Campbell, of Kansas Biological survey. “There is considerable value in having focused public discussions since this critical issue won’t be going away, and finding real solutions will partly revolve around increasing public awareness and helping people to appreciate the necessity of investing in management if we hope to preserve our lakes.”
The lake has been a significant aspect of public infrastructure since its creation 80 years ago. For thousands of years, the tall prairie grasses had held dust in place, but farming and overgrazing loosened the green golden weave. Land stripped to hardpan became impossible to farm, and still there came no rains. Thick dust swirled into black whirlwinds, clouding the sunlight. Into this dreary landscape walked the Works Progress Administration, full of new ideas, promises, and plans for 169 new Kansas reservoirs, places for recreation in times of stress, sources of irrigation, a way to store the water that came to the parched fields.
Gardner Lake, built from 1934 to 1939, started in the Depression as a dream of better times to come. More than 200 men put their backs and their faith into creating this reservoir of hope. They built 12 barracks and a kitchen, plus a beach house that still stands. They completed the dam, under the direction of E.F. Alexander and two other businessmen, for a cost of $400,000 in 1939. Those men built that dam to last. The lake remains a place of refuge for wildlife and fish. One channel catfish caught in Gardner Lake weighed 29 pounds, a record that stayed strong as the best in the state of Kansas for 25 years.
Lucas Kowalewski, of Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism, said that the lake holds channel catfish, flathead catfish, largemouth bass, saugeye, crappie, and gizzard shad. The state leases the lake for $8,325 annually so that non-residents can enjoy fishing and boating rights on Gardner Lake. The fish feeding program provides two pounds of fish food per acre each year.
Kansas originally had fewer than ten natural lakes, as Kansas does not have the geology or soil types necessary for sustaining natural lakes over time without human intervention, said Scott Willard Campbell, of Kansas Biological Survey. He estimated there are more than 200,000 artificially constructed reservoirs of all sizes in Kansas. A reservoir is an artificial lake where water is stored, and the dam controls the amount of water that flows out of the reservoir. A spillway is a hydraulic structure built at a dam site to divert surplus water after a reservoir fills to maximum capacity.
Some Kansas lakes are owned by the state or private individuals, and the US Army Corps of Engineers manages others. Gardner Lake has become the responsibility of the City of Gardner, which owns the lake water and lake bed. There is no written maintenance and operation plan, city staff asserted.