Late last week, I received a letter from Helen Beckham of Hesston, along with a fairly hefty packet of information about the history of Marion County Park and Lake, after she read my editorial, “On the subject of names.”
Probably the most interesting item Beckham included was a letter dated March 10, 1939. The letter was from James Meisner, who designed and supervised construction of the lake in his role as county engineer, to Jerry Mullikin, the first park and lake superintendent. Meisner — who signed the letter as “Jimmy” Meisner — urged Mullikin to take very good care of his brainchild, not to cut corners in an effort to save a few pennies. He emphasized the importance of developing and keeping a reputation as a great place for families and children to visit.
Meisner’s letter indicates a vision of constant activity at the lake, not a sleepy fishing hole. He said that if handled properly, less than 1 percent of lake patrons would be fishermen — not because nobody would fish at the lake, but because so many people would visit for other activities. I can only guess whether Meisner ever considered the possibility of a world-record marshmallow roast.
He had many suggestions for events and facility upgrades that would be good for the lake. Unfortunately, the length of the letter makes it impractical to print the entire thing here. If anyone wants to read it in its entirety, visit the newspaper office.
Even 73 years later, Meisner’s letter shows an enviable amount of foresight. He saw the park as an opportunity for locals who couldn’t afford to go on distant vacations to enjoy themselves without spending too much, as well as a chance for local businesses to piggyback on by serving the visitors to the lake.
At its best, Marion County Park and Lake is both those things: a recreational choice that won’t break the bank and a resource to bring money into the local economy. Last year’s high heat and drought, leading to a toxic algae outbreak, made it a poor fit for either of those, though.
Nobody can control what the weather will do, but if the water stays clear of those blue-green algae, people should make the short trip out to the lake again. Remind yourself how wonderful it is to have such a gem in Marion County’s backyard. I drive out there fairly often, but every time I am still surprised to be reminded how nice Marion County Park and Lake is.
— ADAM STEWART