Melvern Lake and Eisenhower State Park are located in the Tallgrass Prairie of Osage County, Kansas. It offers nearly 7,000 acres of water and more than 17,000 acres of public land for a variety of recreational opportunities.
The earliest known inhabitants of the Melvern Lake area were the Kanza Indians, who inhabited the area for nearly a century. In 1825, the Kanza tribe ceded most of their territory, including the Melvern Lake area, to the United States. In 1846, a reservation for the Sac and Fox Indians was established in the southern two-thirds of Osage County and parts of Lyon, Coffey, and Franklin Counties. By 1867, the area was opened to white settlement, and the reservation was removed from the Marais des Cygnes River Valley.
Melvern Lake and Dam were constructed from 1967 to 1972 at a cost of $37,436,530 for the primary purpose of providing flood control on the lower Marais des Cygnes River.
The earthen dam was completed in 1970, and the reservoir completely filled in 1975. The dam is 188 feet high and 9,650 feet long at its crest. Melvern Lake has a water surface of 10.8 square miles and a maximum capacity of 363,000 acre-feet, although normal storage is 154,000 acre-feet. The lake elevation is maintained via a series of hydraulically operated gates located at the bottom of the control tower. The lake water passes through an 11.5-foot conduit for approximately 754 feet before entering the Marais Des Cygnes River. It is owned and operated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
By October 2012, Melvern Lake had prevented approximately $220,637,000 in downstream flood damages.
Recreation includes fishing, hunting, boating, and camping in the five parks surrounding the lake and the adjoining Eisenhower State Park. Boat access can be made via two boat ramps, there are two developed swim beaches and four reservable group shelters.
In 1990, Eisenhower State Park, formerly Melvern State Park, was renamed by the Kansas Legislature to honor Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th U.S. President and an Abilene, Kansas native. The park is located on the north shore of Melvern Lake with 1,345 acres of prairie, 440 acres of woodland, and many areas for recreational activities. Eisenhower is the perfect place for family gatherings, fishing, or base camp for your next hunting trip.
More activities include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, swimming, picnicking, a covered dock, a fly-fishing pond, a kids fishing pond, and Frisbee golf. Wi-Fi is available, and the park even has kayaks and canoes for rent. There are 186 utility campsites available for RVs and primitive camping. Cabins and Yurts are also available. The park has an equestrian campground and approximately 20 miles of trails available for horseback riders.
©Kathy Alexander/Legends of Kansas, July 2022.