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Kanopolis Lake is a man-made reservoir located near Ellsworth, Kansas. The lake is the result of a dam constructed from 1940-1948 on the Smoke Hill River, making it one of the oldest lakes in the state. The main purposes of Kanopolis Lake are flood control, irrigation, recreation, fish and wildlife, water quality, downstream low flow augmentation, and water supply.
Constructed because of the Flood Control Act of 1938, Kanopolis Lake was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and they still maintain it to this day. The main purpose of the lake is flood control, and to maintain the minimum flow of the Smoke Hill River. Under normal conditions the lake boasts 41 miles of shoreline, and when it is at flood stage, it more than triples to 135 miles of shoreline.
Recreation is another important purpose of Kanopolis Lake, and for this purpose there are six recreation areas around the lake. Four are maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, and the other two are part of Kanopolis State Park. Kanopolis State Park was, in fact, the first state-owned park in Kansas. The park boasts over 300 campsites, a service marina, 25 miles of hiking trails, swimming beaches, horseback riding, biking trails, and numerous picnic areas.
Since recreation is a vital role for Kanopolis Lake, the Corps and the State have made it easy for anyone to get access to the water. Three public boat launches are available, and one whole section of the lake is set aside for fishing only. Check with local officials, though, because this section is part of a wildlife refuge, and is sometimes closed to the public. Fish species include White Bass, Walleye, Saugeye, Channel Catfish, Wipers, and Crappie, attracting thousands of fishermen each year.
The wildlife refuge at Kanopolis Lake is one place that has more than its fair share of numerous species. Coyote, beaver, mink, bobcat, raccoon, muskrat and that lone American marsupial, the opossum, abound. And even more easily found are squirrel, whitetail deer, quail, rabbit, pheasant, prairie chicken, turkey, and several types of waterfowl. Hunting is allowed with a permit during proper seasons.
Kanopolis Lake is carved out of the nearby Dakota Sandstone Bluffs, and there are numerous caves to explore around the lake; the most popular are located near Horsethief Canyon. Trails abound, and when you are finished crawling around in the caves, you can climb up the bluffs to remind yourself what is above all of those fascinating caves. In addition, Ellsworth County has a couple of interesting museums: Fort Harker and Hodgen House. They are worth a visit if you have time.
The water is lovely on a hot summer day, and Kansas sure gets its share of those. Kanopolis Lake is a high traffic lake as far as water sports go, but there is room for all. Boats, jet skis, water skiers and canoes are all at home with one another, and everyone keeps it civilized. Swimming is a great way to cool off and spend time with the kids. The swimming beaches are well maintained, as are the picnic and camping areas. There are plenty of things to do in this area - enough to plan a whole vacation around!
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