The Kansas City District has a large Natural Resource Management Program which provides many recreational opportunities. While lake staff specializes in managing natural resources, several practices provide ancillary benefits to recreation and multiple authorized purposes.
“Through natural resource management, we work to improve the land which benefits recreation activities as part of our environmental stewardship program and the Corps overall mission," says Lora Vacca, Smithville Lake operation project manager. “We wear many hats and support many initiatives, but a main practice that coincides with recreation is natural resource management. We work to maintain thousands of acres of public lands and water for the benefit of both the public and fish and wildlife.”
The Kansas City District owns, operates and maintains 18 lakes and dams in four states. You may hear friends say they are going to the lake, but there is so much more to offer than just a lake. Through several natural resource management efforts, some additional benefits spill over into recreation opportunities such as wildlife viewing, hunting, trapping, fishing and hiking to name a few.
Maintaining populations of a variety of native plants provides important habitat for butterflies and bees and help sustain the ecosystem by maintaining diversity of plant and animal life. In addition to providing abundant food sources for insects such as monarch caterpillars, pollinator-driven actions can benefit visitors in many ways. Large insect populations provide additional food sources for birds and increase nesting success which increases wildlife viewing opportunities. Due to the amount of spectators at several locations, some lakes have constructed trails around pollinator planting locations for designated viewing areas.
Wetlands provide suitable habitat for nesting and places for lots of amphibians, reptiles, waterfowl and shorebirds to live. This increase in species diversity provides more opportunities for hunters and bird watchers. By providing shallow water marsh areas, or wetlands, migrating birds use those locations to stop and refuel along migration routes.
“Kanopolis Lake has a very unique 20-acre wetland in Venango Park,” says Ryan Williams, Kanopolis Lake park manager. “We control the pool level of this area by pumping water into it late in the summer before migrating birds start their fall migration. This also allows for water to be present throughout the fall, winter and portions of the spring. In the spring we draw the water level down to encourage beneficial plant species to germinate and grow, then invertebrate species thrive, providing substantial food sources for the next migration and current inhabitants.”
The ability to pump the wetland provides more stability than one that uses rain water to maintain levels. This stability encourages migrating birds to revisit the location every year on their annual migration.
“The wetland shares similar recreation benefits for our visitors, as it provides an aesthetic view of a very accessible area that is rich with wildlife. A trail has also been constructed around this wetland providing visitors a designated path to enjoy an abundance of wildlife and scenic views,” says Williams.
Invasive species can be an animal, plant or fungus. Typically, it’s a species that has been brought into a new environment and believed to cause damage to the environment, human economy or human health. With 18 lakes in four states and Mitigation Project lands along the Missouri River, the Kansas City District has identified several species in which teams are working to control or eradicate.
“Invasive species pose a threat to our project lands and waters and can adversely impact the recreational experience of our project visitors. Certain species can impact the operation of our dams and have serious adverse impacts on our native vegetation and fish and wildlife populations,” informs David Hoover, Kansas City District’s conservation biologist. “Some species are a priority and high on our radar so we are actively working to monitor or eradicate them.”
When you drive to the lake in the spring and see a plume of smoke, it might be planned for a reason. The Corps conducts controlled burns at several locations to help clear out invasive species and strengthen new growth for the spring. Staff is trained in fire management and fire behavior. They understand and monitor conditions prior to burning and coordinate these activities with local emergency responders.
This burning practice improves wildlife populations, removes woody vegetation encroachment and provides food sources for young animals and insects. With a clean slate, diversity in new plants and wildlife, such as quail, pheasant and song birds appear making bird watching plentiful.
Through the Corps’ Agricultural Lease Program several thousand acres of public lands are leased to farmers for the purpose of crop or hay production. Lease agreements require the operators to incorporate specific wildlife management practices into their operation such as specific crop rotations, food plots, native grass and shrub establishment.
This program helps maintain the lands and provides a lot of food source for wildlife. The management of the lands keeps areas from becoming overgrown and increases public use to cross these areas for recreational opportunities, such as hiking, bird watching and mushroom hunting.
However, managing wildlife isn’t always about helping species thrive, sometimes it’s also to control the population numbers, such as deer, so they don’t damage the habitat.
Wildlife refuge areas are restricted and very controlled to outside access. Although typically closed to public access, the Corps manages these lands similar to public areas. They work to control invasive species, manage agriculture leases in some refuges and conduct control burns on a scheduled rotation.
At some locations and within certain hunting seasons, the Corps opens up these wildlife gems to assist in controlling populations where hunting typically is not allowed.
“Smithville Lake’s managed deer hunt is vital for us to manage our large deer herd and it provides an excellent opportunity for disabled hunters to return to the outdoors,” informs Derek Dorsey, Smithville Lake park manager. “Since this event started in 1990, nearly 1,500 deer have been harvested providing an incredible opportunity for disabled hunters. Hunters apply nationwide hoping to secure a spot. Smithville Lake provides 65 blinds, making our event the world’s largest managed deer hunt.”
The Kansas City District also works to protect multiple resources through a robust Cultural Resource Program providing stewardship to all 18 lakes. Park rangers are first line support for protecting cultural resources such as burial grounds and Native American artifacts. Working with Corps archeologists, they ensure construction activities do not take place near identified cultural resource locations and work to comply and protect these resources under federal laws and Corps regulations.
The bald eagle is another gem found at Corps lakes. It was placed on the endangered species list in 1967, but with the right habitat the first successful bald eagle nest in the Kansas City District was document at Clinton Lake in 1989. Since then, eagle populations have rebounded significantly. For more than 50 years, Kansas City District lakes have provided prime habitat for several thousand wintering birds. Standing timber in lakes and large trees along shorelines serve as nesting and hunting perches allowing bald eagles to continue to thrive at Corps lakes. In April 2018, a record-breaking 125 active bald eagle nests were recorded in Kansas.
Additional eagle viewing opportunities are provided every winter at several lakes. The Corps hosts several Eagle Day events with live eagle programs, exhibits, viewing stations and activities.
Kansas City District lakes are known for a vast variety of quality fishing opportunities. While state agencies manage the lake fisheries, the Corps does work to assist with fish habitat in certain locations. This work benefits fish, wildlife (eagles, great blue heron, otters, snapping turtles, snakes, pelicans) and anglers. Structures can be made with PVC plastic pipe, brush piles, rock piles and boulders. Fish attractors provide cover and food for fish as algae grows on the structures. For anglers, this effort concentrates fish allowing them to have an increased success rate.
Anglers access these prime fishing spots from boat ramps, shoreline or docks.
Shoreline stabilization practices help protect the shoreline and provide additional recreation opportunities. Lake staff works to maintain acceptable fish and wildlife habitat, aesthetic quality and natural environment conditions while promoting safe use for recreational purposes and providing general public use. Some practices include armoring the shoreline with rip-rap and jetty construction. These provide shallow water habitat for fish and increased public access for fishing, provide increased water quality by reducing sedimentation and protect infrastructure such as campgrounds, roads, water lines, utilities and more.
Shoreline management practices protect the shoreline by promoting safe and healthful public use while maintaining environmental safeguards. The objectives of all management actions are to achieve a balance between permitted private uses and resource protection for general public use. Private shoreline uses, such as private boat docks and vegetation management, which were granted prior to 1974 have been grandfathered thus the Corps continues to honor those requests. Shoreline Management Plans which outline the balance of these uses are scheduled to be reviewed every five years which include a public comment period. The Kansas City District's largest program is at Pomme de Terre Lake, housing over 600 five-year permits.
And finally, the water is inspected.
“Water quality is important to monitor at all 18 lakes and the Missouri River,” says Marvin Boyer, Kansas City District’s limnologist.” Monitoring water quality not only insures it is safe for humans and animals, but is critical to support the wide range of uses that depend on Corps lakes for water.”
During the months of April through September, park rangers help collect water samples. Using special instruments from boats, they sample the main arms of the lake, inflow streams at bridge crossings and the outflow below the dam looking at physical, chemical and biological profiles. Once collected, the data is managed and shared online.
Keep in mind recreation spans thousands of miles at each of the lakes and the Corps works hard to maintain these lands for the public to enjoy. When recreating, remember to be courteous, respect the land and play it safe.