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Tucked neatly into the northeast region of Kansas about 40 miles west of Kansas City, Perry Lake Reservoir provides tons of fun for those lucky enough to find it. The reservoir was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers primarily as a flood control project but has been carefully developed to provide all sorts of outdoor recreation for visitors to the area. Camping areas, boat ramps, marinas, wildlife refuges, restaurants and beaches offer every kind of leisure activity. The reservoir protects the downstream communities of Perry, Lawrence, Bonner Springs, and Kansas City from damaging flooding from the Delaware River and its tributaries.
Constructed in 1969, Perry Lake Reservoir covers much of the former Delaware Indian Reservation. The irregularly-shaped reservoir offers over 11,000 acres of water surface at 'multi-purpose pool' levels but can expand to over 25,000 acres in the event of flooding. The wetlands created hold a wealth of wildlife and waterfowl, offering wildlife viewing year round and hunting in selected areas during season. At regular levels, the lake supports all types of water sports and boating. There are no restrictions on boats on most of the lake, so visitors enjoy power boating, water skiing, jet skiing, tubing, wake boarding, pontooning and sailing. A yacht club provides slips for its members, teaches sailing, sponsors regattas, and holds regular activities for the membership. Three marina concessions rent all types of boats and have rental slips, gas docks, restaurants, boating and bait stores, and make repairs. The many coves and inlets offer great paddling venues with plenty of wildlife to watch for. Perry Lake has something for every interest and receives many visitors throughout the year.
Fishing is big sport at Perry Lake. The lake is known for being a productive sauger fishery and provides breeding stock for other Kansas lakes. Good-sized channel catfish are the norm, particularly in the notoriously-productive 'hog trough' fishing hole. Bait stations make fishing from shore attractive for young children; white crappie, flathead catfish, walleye and white bass are plentiful. A water fluctuation fish management plan is used to assure optimal breeding grounds for the various species. In winter, ice fishing is popular, particularly around the Rock Creek Park area. Two swimming beaches are provided, while picnic areas and playgrounds round out the day's visit. Overnight campers will find a number of campsites in the various areas around the reservoir. Perry Lake State Park offers camping with all amenities, showers, electricity and beautiful shaded campsites.
Perry Lake also offers four more camping areas, mostly with fewer amenities. These are of particular interest to the many who come to hike the excellent trail system or engage in bicycling or horseback riding. An equestrian campground and trail are extremely popular. An ATV area is set aside for those who enjoy the sport. Interpretive trails offer information of the wildlife, birds, trees and grasses in the area. One area along the eastern shore is the best spot to view bald eagles; sometimes a breeding pair raises their young in full view of the hiking trail. Several organized trail systems meander along the shoreline, including the nearly 30-mile Perry Lake Hiking Trail, one of the first National Recreation Trails in Kansas. The Old Military Trail section along the lake is somewhat demanding, but fans say it is likely the most scenic section. An old USACE (US Army Corps of Engineers) campground permits limited camping in this area by prior permission only.
The USACE owns over 21,600 acres of public land around the reservoir managed for wildlife. Deer, turkey, quail, pheasant, squirrel, rabbit, geese and ducks may be found on these federal public hunting lands. Most of the actual management work is accomplished by leasing lands to local farmers for agricultural purposes with lease stipulations to maximize wildlife habitat. Over 1000 acres of marshland have been developed in 14 different spots along the shoreline to benefit wildlife. The Perry Lake Marshland Refuge Areas are located further north along the Delaware River. These areas are a bird-watcher's paradise. Shorebirds, waterfowl, and many other migratory birds stop here to rest, nest, and mate. Some species stay here year-round.
All of these attractions make Perry Lake an ideal destination for a family vacation. Those not interested in camping can find other forms of lodgings in nearby towns, including small motels, guest cottages and bed-and-breakfasts. At the Village of Perry, canoeists can access northeast Kansas' only public canoeing stream, the Kansas River. The area is particularly rich in Plains farm history; the Old Jefferson Town Historical Museum site just east of Perry Lake near Oskaloosa holds 10 acres of buildings moved there from around the county including a blacksmith shop, jail, general store, chapel, school house, Victorian home, and the John Steuart Curry boyhood home and museum. Also housed at Old Jefferson Town are the genealogical research building, a bandstand, and a native grass prairie. Of particular interest is the sculpted representation of the Samuel Peppard Wind Wagon endeavor. This local blacksmith and wagon-maker built a true 'prairie schooner' complete with mast and sail to take him to the Colorado gold fields. He and his partners actually made it to within 100 miles of Denver before their wagon was broken apart by a whirlwind.
Another Kansas historical venue to the west of Perry Lake is the Meriden Antique Engine and Threshing Association's location near Meriden. The Association puts on several antique tractor and threshing equipment events during the year, drawing fans of old steam-powered farm equipment from all over the Midwest. On site is Cottonwood Station, a reproduction of an early-day Kansas town. The town is only open during Association event weekends, but private tours can be arranged. Located this close to Kansas City and Topeka, Perry Lake is idea for a day or weekend visit. Because the lakeshore is all owned by the USACE, there is no real estate available along the lakefront. Property along the many creeks in the area is sometime available, however. If a northeastern Kansas vacation is in your future, you couldn't ask for a more perfect spot than Perry Lake. We hope you'll visit soon!
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