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Milford Lake is the largest reservoir in Kansas with 163 shoreline miles and 16,000 surface acres. The lake offers abundant recreational opportunities with prime fishing, sandy swimming beaches, and public ramps for launching boats, canoes, and sailboats. Known as the "Lake of Blue Water," scenic Milford Lake is easily accessible, about 30 miles west of Manhattan in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The lake and the surrounding 21,000 acres, located in Geary and Clay Counties, make up one of Kansas' prime outdoor habitats.
Milford Lake is owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1954, construction of the dam on the Republican River took five years to complete, from 1962 to 1967. In addition to the Republican River, other major streams flowing into Milford Lake are Madison, Farnum, Quimby, Rush, Curtis, and School Creeks. The multi-purpose project was built for flood control, water supply, water quality, navigation, recreation, and wildlife enhancement. Since filling to the multi-purpose pool level in 1967, Milford Reservoir has become a Kansas recreational mecca. Visitors enjoy a stop at the Corps' Visitor Center, located on the south end of the dam. The Center is open seven days a week during the recreation season, and Monday through Friday from fall to spring. Visitors learn how the dam works, who inhabited the area before the European settlers, and even have an opportunity to view fossils estimated at 280 million years old.
Accommodations at Milford Lake include private and public camp sites, RV sites, and cabin rentals. Milford State Park spans 1,084 acres and offers both primitive campsites and modern campsites with showers, restrooms, electric, water and sewer hook-ups. For visitors who prefer more creature comforts, the park also has three housekeeping cabins for rent with heat and air conditioning. Milford State Park also provides recreational amenities such as swimming beaches, boat ramps, picnic shelters, a full-service marina, a multi-purpose trails system, and wildlife viewing tower. The park has a dedicated jet-ski beach, where visitors can launch their watercraft and leave their vehicles at the water's edge. Milford State Park even houses a private yacht club. For sailing enthusiasts, Sailboat Cove is a great way to meet other sailors. The sandy beach near South Boat Ramp provides shelters for family and group picnics.
Many trails around Milford Lake allow access to sightseers, birdwatchers, cyclists, joggers, and those looking for a leisurely scenic walk. Milford State Park offers four trails for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians, ranging in length from 1/2 mile to 8 miles: Crystal Trail, Waterfall Pond Trail, Pipeline Trail, and Eagle Ridge Trail. Pipeline Trail is the main access trail. The segmented trail system connects all of the campgrounds together, acting as a shortcut between areas. Beaver, wood ducks, pheasants, quail, herons, and kingfishers are visible throughout the trails. In the summer, six-lined racerunner lizards can be sighted. One of the more popular off-road vehicle areas is the 287-acre School Creek ORV area. Vehicles that are 50 inches wide or less are allowed to use this area.
Milford Lake is a popular destination for fishermen looking for catches of walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass, spotted bass, white bass, wipers (cross between white bass and striped bass), catfish (blue, channel, and flathead), crappie, bluegill and sunfish. In early April, walleye are found along the face of Milford Lake dam to spawn, and otherwise are found in the flats at Farnum Creek and mud points near School Creek. Crappie and largemouth bass are abundant in almost all of the brushy and rocky coves, although the traditional hot spots for crappie are coves in the Rolling Hills and Curtis Creek areas. Smallmouth bass are regularly found at the face of the dam and rocky points in the lower half of the lake. White bass and catfish are prevalent throughout the lake. Some of the most esteemed fishing tournaments in America are hosted at Milford Lake.
The Milford Wildlife Area consists of approximately 19,000 acres of public land open to hunting. The plentiful game include deer, quail, pheasant, prairie chicken, duck, goose, rabbit, turkey and squirrel. Trappers pursue raccoon, muskrat, and beaver. An additional 2,300 acres at the north end of the lake is dedicated to the Milford Wetlands Restoration Project, promoting migratory stopover and breeding habitats for waterfowl, shorebirds, and other wildlife species. Approximately 1,100 of these acres is the Steve Lloyd Refuge which provides a wildlife viewing area for visitors. The Refuge is a great place to view waterfowl, shorebirds, birds of prey, and songbirds throughout the seasons. Both the Milford Wildlife Area and the Wetlands Project are managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
Another fine wildlife viewing location is the causeway at the north end of Milford Lake. A good place to park while scanning the area for birds is Clay County Park, which is located in Wakefield on the west side of the lake. During the winter season bald eagles frequent the area. White pelicans flock to the park during spring and fall. Wood ducks, widgeon, geese, cormorants, grebes, green herons, gulls, shorebirds, eastern bluebirds, Harris' sparrows, northern cardinals, blue jays, and several species of woodpeckers are also prevalent during migrations.
Milford Nature Center and Milford Fish Hatchery, both located below the dam, are must-sees. Tours are available by appointment only. The Tall Grass Nature Trail begins at the nature center. Seasonal songbirds and butterflies are featured in a backyard habitat demonstration area. The nature center and hatchery are open from April through October.
Visitors to the Kansas Landscape Arboretum will enjoy 1,000 species of native and exotic plants adapted to the Kansas environment. The Arboretum is open daily from March through October. Easily accessible trails meander through prairie and woodland habitats. The longest trail, stretching one mile, is the Woodland Trail. The Bird Sanctuary Trail encircles a small pond. The Meadow Willow Trail follows along the riverbank, and the Wild Acres Trail circles a prairie meadow. The Schroeder Garden provides a picnic area.
Whether on the water or off, Milford Lake provides bountiful recreational opportunities for all who visit.
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