Wilson Lake park ranger provides extraordinary skillset

Published Nov. 2, 2023
Man stands at edge of boat while other man pilots boat with two swimmers in the water wearing inflatable life jackets.

Matt Beckman, park ranger, and Brain McNulty, operations project manager, oversee boat operator trainees during their inflatable life jacket certification on June 7, 2023 at Smithville Lake.

Man in uniform operates boat with two divers with oxygen tanks at edge of boat

Matt Beckman, park ranger, operates a boat and sonar while two divers recover a drowning victim at Wilson Lake on October 11, 2023. Photo provided by Nolan Fisher.

Three people standing on a beach with blue sky in background

Matt Beckman with his wife and daughter. Photo provided by Matt Beckman.

Park rangers are valuable teammates of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District, as they are at the front lines working at our lake projects to ensure the public can utilize and enjoy the projects year-round.

One park ranger who has spent the last 22 years of dedicated service with the Kansas City District is Matt Beckman.

“I enjoy working for USACE because you never know what each day is going to be [like], but the variety is what makes the job great,” said Beckman.

Beckman started as a seasonal ranger at Harlan County Lake, Republican City, Nebraska, while studying to earn his Bachelor of Science in biology and wildlife management at Fort Hays State University before becoming a full-time ranger working for Perry Lake, Perry, Kansas. After spending over seven years at Perry Lake, Beckman was able make the move and work at Wilson Lake, Sylvan Grove, Kansas.

“Working at Wilson Lake gives me the opportunity to conduct patrols, but also have natural resource duties through the habitat management of prairies,” Beckman said.

His work at Wilson Lake does not go unnoticed as his supervisor, Nolan Fisher, natural resource manager, is happy to have Beckman on the team.

“Matt [Beckman], is an asset to the team and his skills with sonar for search and recovery are exceptional and sought after by local law enforcement agencies. I recall several events where his skillset in sonar locators reduced the recovery event by multiple days,” said Fisher.

Unfortunately, working at a USACE lake means there may be a time in a park ranger’s career when they are called to help search for potential drowning victims. During this delicate and stressful period of time for all involved, it is important to help the victim’s family gain closure. In this case, it usually means locating the victim in the water using sonar in a timely manner. This is no easy task as using sonar can be difficult and does not always project clear images. Yet, sonar is still the best option for the search and can save manhours, allowing for a faster recovery.

“Other forms of recovery can take multiple days, but with sonar, we are sometimes able to find victims in hours. It’s important to me that we help recover the victim and provide the family closure as soon as we are able to,” Beckman said.

Beckman is known for his unusual techniques with sonar and his ability to aid in search, rescues and recoveries. So much so, the Russell County Sheriff will more times than not turn to Beckman to operate the boat and sonar during search, rescues or recoveries.  

“He’s an asset and by far one of the best boat and sonar operators I’ve ever worked with in my 28 years of law enforcement,” said Russell County Sherriff, Fredrick Whitman.

No park ranger wants to encounter any kind of fatality while working on the job, as part of their job is to serve the public and keep the public safe. When a fatality does occur, it is important to have the right park rangers and skill sets working on the recovery. Beckman is certainly the right one to do the job.

He is also a part of a special tools team for the Kansas City District, which can deploy to any lake or river with a towable side sonar scanner to not only look for drowning victims, but scan levees and dams for any debris needing removal. Beckman has helped scan portions of Gavin’s Point Dam, Yankton, South Dakota, and worked along the Missouri River.

While he enjoys his job and has the skillsets to succeed at it, he also chose to work at Wilson Lake for the community. Beckman is a part of his community not only through his work every day as a park ranger, but because he lives with his wife and 10-year-old daughter in the area. He even takes his daughter fishing and hunting with him around Wilson Lake. If he isn’t teaching his daughter how to bait a hook, you can find him helping his friend with harvesting wheat or herding cattle.

“I’ve liked living in western Kansas and the community is great to raise a family in. My family enjoys rural living and a lot of what I enjoy doing during my free time helps relate back to work,” said Beckman.

Beckman embodies just how extraordinary, talented and compassionate the park rangers of USACE are.