About Parks & Recreation

Overview

A view of Wyandotte County Lake on a beautiful and warm summer day

Mission Statement

Enriching the quality of life for our community through safe, well-maintained parks and facilities that promote diverse recreation activities, health, wellness, learning, and fun.

Vision Statement

To provide excellent services that create a happy and healthy community where all residents can play, learn, work, and live.

Parks & Recreation Department Core Values

  1. Customer Service: We are committed to providing service that is responsive, professional, courteous, and accountable.

  2. Teamwork: We are committed to build strong, professional relationships internally with our department and organization as a team as well as our community partners.

  3. Integrity: We are honest, transparent, fair, and respectful in all interactions.

  4. Innovation: We are committed to exploring new methods and ideas as it relates to programming, park management, and planning.

  5. Health & Wellness: We value health and wellness and strive to improve the overall health and wellness of our community through our services.

  6. Safety: We strive to provide safe, clean, and accessible parks, facilities, and programs.

  7. Social Equity: We are committed to creating parks and recreation services that are equally accessible and available to all residents in our community.

Wyandotte County Lake History

The Building of the Lake

The Early Years Adapted from a speech by Wyandotte County Parks Ranger Timothy H. Johnson (June 1989 - August 1990)

Wyandotte County Lake Map(PDF, 455KB)

Public contact with Park Rangers is usually at one of the parks in a law enforcement capacity. However, rangers have several functions, one of which is to help interpret our parks for the public. One of our goals has been to develop our understanding of the physical, historical, and biological makeup of the Wyandotte County Parks.

These remarks are on the public events leading up to and during the Wyandotte County Lake and Park building. Contact Parks & Recreation for specifics.

For the lake, we need to consider the geographic or geologic makeup of the land. The lake is situated alongside the beautiful Missouri River basin, within eyesight of the state of Missouri. The river appears to have carved the basin out as it flowed to the east. The land below the dam to the north is fertile river silt from deposits over a long period.

The first bit of information concerning the lake site’s early years was the comment by (2) interview sources that there had been a racetrack in what is now the lakebed. This track is suggested to have appeared in the 1890s and may have remained there until just before the 1920s. Based on information passed to the family of John Barber, who farmed in the lake region of the Hornuff area, the track was used by Fort Leavenworth command staff to race their thoroughbred horses. The stock possibly came directly from England for fox hunting and jumping. The horses were reportedly ridden by black jockeys who worked in the military stables.

Although unable to verify this through city directories or newspapers of the day, research at the Ft. Leavenworth Military Museum and the Leavenworth Command General College archives indicates such an activity could have been in operation. Zoe A. Tilghman, in a 1926 article for the Kansas Historical Society, “Quarter Horses and Racing in the Southwest,” provides a description that also indicates a strong possibility for such a dirt track. Here is one quote, “no bookmakers, no gates for admission fees, no professional jockeys, no scale of weights. Each race was a match.” Other publications in the Kansas Historical Collection have photos of horse and harness racing at the Leavenworth County Fair during the 1890s.
In the early 1930s, Wyandotte County, as did the nation, found itself in the stranglehold of the depression. People without jobs, families without income, and many individuals almost without hope.

A second problem in the Midwest was a lack of water caused by drought. As was the case in the national government, state and local governments searched for ways to create jobs and establish water conservation through impoundments.

One immediate solution was the building of the Wyandotte County Lake and Park. Many different sources point to area banker Willard Breidenthal as a leader in the movement to build the lake. Although some authorities, such as the book by Joseph McDowell, “Building a City” and the Wyandotte West Newspaper in 1979, state that Breidenthal bought 1400 acres and then sold them back at cost to the county, park records do not verify this.

Park records verify that payment was made directly to several private and corporate landowners. Some land was forced to be taken by condemnation. Breidenthal did own some land and retained some property alongside the current boundaries, which have been passed down through inheritance to grandson George Breidenthal. Part of Willard Breidenthal’s interest may have resulted from his serving as agent on a foreclosure of property from one Mr. Knowlen in February (28th) of 1929 for a bank.

Unquestionably, Breidenthal was instrumental in getting the project started and finished.

1934 - 1939

September 1934

County Relief Administrator Lester Wickliffe initiated a survey of lake sights in the county.


1935

The county determined it needed appropriate tracts of land to form a bed for the lake and critical approaches on all sides. The project was beginning.

March 1935
Engineering surveys made of (3) proposed sites authorized by the Kansas Legislature, with $120,000 to be spent on costs.

September 24, 1935
The Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution declaring an intention to purchase 1400 acres of land on and about Marshall Creek, south and to the east of Wolcott, for a country lake and park.

Site selection was based on:

  • Topography: desirable width, length, and depth.
  • Centrally located.
  • Adjacent hillsides are heavily covered with native timber.
  • The required right-of-way is in the hands of a few large owners available at reasonable values.
  • Accessibility to existing state and county highways.
  • The watershed size to for desirable depth.
  • Borings indicate underlying strata adaptable to construction under economic conditions.

A factor that was not cited but later contributed to the project’s success was the abundant wildlife and fish from Marshall Creek. In interview after interview, individuals mentioned the excellent fishing in Marshall Creek before the lake.
There were also plenty of snakes, especially copperheads and rattlesnakes. Area farmer Bud Barber tells the story of Frank Rabuzi, who hunted snakes on the bluffs where the park was built. One afternoon after a successful hunt, he jumped on the Interurban trolley at the Loma Vista station for a ride back into town. An elderly lady commented how he must have had good luck fishing as she observed the still writhing gunny sack on the trolley car floor. When told of the contents, she quickly moved to the opposite end of the car.

December 1935
About 500 men began work on a (4) day per week shift for $45. Transportation was the Interurban with a special 25-cent roundtrip fare.


1936

January of 1936
Construction began with the dredging of mud and debris from the Marshall Creek channel. Clearing went well, and other preparatory work was started. The national park service aided in the planning stage for shelters and park work.

Discovery of a human skeleton in a shallow grave. There was no record of any burials in the area, and because of pearl buttons, the remains were thought to be that of someone other than an Indian. No description is given for what happened to the skeleton or its identity.

One early problem was discovered to be the blue clay soil on which the dam was being built. It proved to have more significant leakage or seepage than planned. The US Army Engineers prescribed immense pilings to combat the problem.

July of 1936
The first of several strikes took place. At issue were wages of $1.25 for hoisting engineers and $.75 for drivers; no one outside Wyandotte County to get a job until the labor pool was exhausted, and the Wyandotte County employment office must hire employees.


1937

There was steady progress on the dam, roadways, and preliminary buildings. Work was hand labor. Lumber was milled on sight, shingles carved on site, and stone gravel quarried from the pending lakebed.

September 19, 1937
Disaster. The dam collapsed. It was 90% finished. Several sightseers were driving across when a crack appeared, but they went to safety. The dam was estimated to weigh 2 million tons. The part which fell was estimated to weigh 300,000 pounds and fell 50 feet. The drop caused the land to the north to shift completely, closing a 16-foot drainage ditch. The highway north of the spillway was made impassable when the dirt shifted. There was no quake, which caused the dam to fall; however, the movement of the dirt caused a minor earthquake of its own.

The old timers said, “I told you so.” There are indications that railroad engineers for the Missouri Pacific line, which was just to the north, had warned of problems with some underlying ground when putting in their track. Possibly the old Missouri channel had robbed portions of the land of its solid moorings. The project was in serious jeopardy.

It was several months before the work on the dam and park project was restarted. During the winter, all work was halted as engineers, politicians, and WPA officials cussed and discussed matters.

The cost of rebuilding and completing the project was estimated at $2,611.839.77. I do not know why the estimate includes $.77. Reconstruction of the dam alone was set at $1,873,900.00.


1938

The WPA was hesitant about approval, and in March, Frank Holcomb, Chairman of the County Commissioners, opposed any significant additional expenses. Some work was restarted in the summer of 1938 on shop buildings, etc.

Summer pay scales in 1938 were:

  • Skilled workers (69 hours per month) = $78.66
  • Semi-skilled workers (79 hours per month) = $62.40
  • Unskilled workers (107 hours per month) = $49.25

As fall approached, many workers picked up until approximately 1400 men were on site. Short strikes by certain trade unions slowed progress for about one week each in October and November.

One death was reported in 1938 near the area of the spillway. Former KCK City Councilman George Dunn says his father-in-law was a crane operator in the site area when it happened. A bulldozer operator parked his unit outside a work shed and went in. A mechanic went to the back of the unit to check some mechanical items, but the operator returned and drove over the victim without looking. The crane operator’s oilman wanted to look at the victim and, after doing so, missed (3) days’ work from the trauma he suffered.

Winter of 1938
Large work crews were kept on the job. Approval for the rebuilding came from President Roosevelt for the necessary WPA money. New dam plans called for the construction south of the original dam. Army Corp engineers worked (18) hours a day, which included spreading the dam out to absorb the weight.


1939

February of 1939
Fish hatcheries were started. Plans were made to keep only desirable fish in the lake.

March of 1939
Short strikes continued with various trade groups.

April of 1939
The county passed a resolution for money to keep 2,000 men on the payroll. A significant problem in filling the dam was dredging sand from the Missouri River and moving it to the Marshall Creek project. Over 2 million cubic tons of sand were needed.

September of 1939
There was a shortage of workers.

1940 - 1945

1940

It was a year when much of the project began to take on a look where people could recognize finished work. 7 1/2 miles of road were opened, which further aided maintenance. Stone riprap was added to the face of the dam to prevent erosion.


1941

February 1941
The announcement was made that the county would become the owner and maintainer of the WPA park. $25,000 was given as the top cost for maintaining the facility. Frank Brown, county commissioner, and Roy Ferguson, a draftsman for the project, pointed out that $25,000 was plenty for the salaries of a supervisor, fish hatchery supervisor, caretakers, seasonal wood cutting, and lifeguards. They were somewhat over-optimistic.

The spillway was a final problem for completion, as funding was separate from the dam and park project. At times it appeared it would not get completed to a lack of funding. Small strikes slowed work during the summer. A 50% reduction in WPA workers left staff at about 235.


1942

Finishing work was completed on the project, such as seeding the dam. The spillway still needed to be finished. Over six million dollars had been invested in the park project by all funders. About (1) million came from Wyandotte County.

June 1942
The county agreed to fund the spillway work, which halted when WPS funding was cut off.


1944

April of 1944
Water was finally allowed to start impounding and was 45 ft deep at the control tower and covered about 125 acres.

May of 1944
Trains put water over 5 highway’s old route. By year’s end, 200 acres of water covered the lakebed, the state Fish and Game Commission had stocked the lake, and the beach was 80% completed.


1945

The final major problem of the dam project came in 1945. Seepage caused the lake to lose a large water inflow when the Wyandotte County Lake and Park were just about ready.

Wyandotte County Lake Dam

Dam Under Construction - Marshall Creek Project

  • Back side of the dam under construction looking Southeast.
  • Sand was dredged directly from the Missouri River through an elaborate pipe system.
  • Looking North, lake beginning to fill with water. Missouri River in background.

Chronological History

Dam and Spillway Information

  • The dam is rolled earth core with hydraulic fill sand shell.
  • The length of the dam is 1700 feet.
  • Base width is 1000 feet.
  • Crest width is 30 feet.
  • The original depth after construction was 84 feet by the dam.
  • Spillway length is 279 feet and is 16 feet in diameter.

1936-1940

1936

January 15, 1936
Dam construction began with dredging mud and debris from the Marshall Creek Channel.

March 15, 1936
The dredging of mud and debris from Marshall Creek Channel was nearing completion, and filling the ditch with material from the borrow pits was to begin the following week.

Construction of the dam was stopped temporarily. Safety was not a factor. The men in charge found that conditions differed from anticipated at the construction’s start.

May 29, 1936
When construction began, it was anticipated that the layer of blue clay on which the dam was being built would be impervious to water and make a good base for the dam. Still, after excavation, it was found that the stratum might cause leakage. This was undesirable since it would cause the level to vary, producing an unsightly shoreline. The US Army Engineers were consulted, and they prescribed that an immense piling be driven into the bedrock to key the construction. This was done at an additional expense of $75,000. After the piling was driven, construction was continued. There was talk of building a horseshoe-shaped dam utilizing both ends of the present structure, which would be laid on bedrock. Lots of the original dam were built on solid rock.

August 12, 1936
The first of the sheet piling was driven into place on this date. The piling was 5/8-inch thick, 16 inches wide, and interlocking 25-65 feet long. A total of 1,130 linear feet of piling was purchased for the project.


1937

August 25, 1937
The original dam used one million cubic yards of earth and stone. The interior of the Recreations Hall is black, walnut, and oak. The Recreation Hall is in its final stages. As of this date, there were 30 feet of water in the lake.

September 19, 1937
Dam collapsed. The dam was 90% completed at the time of the collapse. Several sightseers were driving across the top of the dam. A crack appeared, but the people reached safety before the collapse. The dam was estimated to weigh approximately 2 million tons. The part which fell was estimated to weigh 300,000 pounds and fell 50 feet. The drop caused the land to the north to shift completely, closing a 16-foot drainage ditch. The highway north of the spillway was made impassable when the dirt shifted. There were no quakes that caused the dam to fall; however, the falling of the dam did cause an average-sized earthquake within the territory.


1938

January 25, 1938
The Army engineers recommended broadening the dam’s base to prevent the reoccurrence of the dam’s collapse.

March 3, 1938
The total cost of rebuilding the dam and completing the park was estimated at $2,611,839.77 in the application, which was filed with the WPA, along with the plans for the rebuilding and completion.

Cost Estimate on the Park Project:

  • 87% or $737, 939.77 from the Federal Govt.
  • 13% or $92,603.25 from County Govt.
  • Reconstruction of the dam is set at $1,873,900.

March 4, 1938
Wyandotte County’s share of the $1, 873,900 was estimated at $56,322.47. (The cost of the reconstruction of the dam). This estimate was taken from the application to the WPA. It estimated that the dam project would provide jobs for 984 relief workers for 12 months. $262,834.47 was allotted for the relief labor. Of the total reconstruction cost, $364,404 was allowed for labor. The difference between the two figures is allocated to the salaries of the technical workers and supervisors.

March 8, 1938
The projects and plans for rebuilding Marshall Creek Dam and completion of the park were approved by the state WPA office and sent to the district headquarters in Chicago.

March 14, 1938
The WPA hesitated in approving the estimated cost of $1,872,900 for the reconstruction and completion of the Wyandotte County dam and park.

March 18,1938
WPA officials were here to see if the rebuilding could be done for less than the cost estimated by the investigation engineers. Of the total cost of $1,873,900, the WPA asked to provide all but $56,322.47, which the county will provide.

March 30, 1938
Frank H. Holcomb, Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, opposed any significant additional dam rebuilding expenses.

April 8, 1938
As of this date, it was estimated that the dam’s completion date would be July 1, 1939. The work came to a standstill during the winter of 1937.

April 15, 1938
WPA advised that President Roosevelt had OK’d the New Marshall Creek Dam project, which means that $1,590,709 of WPA funds would be released from that office immediately.

June 16, 1938
The US Treasury Department handled the purchases of machinery and other equipment to reconstruct the dam. The machinery will be used on all critical items, with only those that can be done most economically by hand labor moved by hand.

July 31, 1938
Work on rebuilding the dam started in the middle of this week. Stripping at the upstream toe of the old dam started. The actual reconstruction should be started by August 10.

September 20, 1938
Today, the American Sand Company of Turner was given the contract to supply 11,700 cubic yards of sand for the dam. The county required the successful bidder on the cement to purchase the cement from the Lone Star Cement Co. When the bids were first submitted, the county received eight identical bids.

November 24, 1938
The new dam is to be erected just south of the original site. It will be constructed under the direction of the US Army Engineers working 18 hours a day. The base of the new dam is 1000 feet wide and will extend from bluff to bluff. No steel core will be in the center as in the previous dam. The dirt used to rebuild the great wall will be carefully selected, placed in position, and rolled. Every bit of pressure placed on the new structure will be carefully checked. It is expected that the lines of the Missouri Pacific will have to be moved to the north of the present location. 400 men are employed at the dam site; nearly 1000 are used to prepare rock and landscaping. The estimated completion date is 1940.


1939

June 10, 1939
The lack of economically available roll-fill material for the dam resulted in the revision of plans. The sand was used for the upstream shell fill and for packing for the downstream shell. The Missouri River Division of Army engineers provided dredging equipment and dredge personnel for the sand project. The WPA handled the filling replacement and placing of the dredged sand. About 500,000 cubic yards of sand were used for the upstream fill, a part of the 2,010,000 cubic yards of the dredged sand to be used. Part of the sand was used to fill the vast pit caused by the muck excavation blamed for the first dam’s collapse.

August 22, 1939
After delays on August 21st due to blown fuses, the sand began pouring into the dam on this date.

September 15, 1939
Approximately 250,000 cubic yards of sand had been pumped into the dam by this date. This represented one-eighth of the 2,000,000 cubic yard total. Work was progressing on the dam, but the park was almost at a standstill due to a need for more workers. Approximately 1250 men were employed as of this date, but the authorities asked for 600 more.

October 11, 1939
Approximately 600,000 cubic yards of sand had been pumped for the dam. Work on the 10-mile road system was 50% complete.

October 17, 1939
Pumping was resumed for the sand after a two-day shutdown due to the construction of a toe drain (1800 feet of 12” corrugated metal pipe placed in the downstream toe to drain off water seeping through the slope). The water draining off the hill was then drained into Marshall Creek.

December 1, 1939
The dredging began at 8:30 PM on August 7th and terminated at midnight on December 2nd for the winter. When the dredging stopped, it was estimated that 100,000 cubic yards of the second million had been pumped into the dam.


1940

March 26, 1940
Work on the rolled fill for the dam started. The dredging was to be started on April 8. 200 WPA workers were recalled.

May 28, 1940
The dredging was completed at 8:00AM. The dredging was completed at 8:00AM.

September 10, 1940
Through the winter, riprap stonework was to be done on the upstream sight of the dam to give protection to prevent wave action from cutting sand fill. About 20,000 cubic yards of native stone quarried in the park were to be used on the upstream slope. The downstream slope was to be sodded to prevent erosion. Work on the spillway was to be continued through the winter.

December 14, 1940
The work on the fill for the dam was stopped until spring, but the 600 present employees are to be kept during the winter to work on other projects at the dam site. E.J. Allison was the superintendent of the project.

1941-1946

1941

February 19, 1941
The concrete pouring on the spillway shaft began on this date. The shaft was sunken 85 feet in the west abutment of the dam; it was 16 feet in diameter at the bottom and 30 feet in diameter at the top.

March 18, 1941
The spillway tunnel 236 feet through the hill at the west abatement of the dam and the stilling basin 110 feet long, which goes under the Missouri Pacific tracks, were started within a few days of this date. The banks of the stilling basin were to be 20 feet high and vary in width from 20 to 30 feet.

April 17, 1941
530 cubic yards of concrete had been poured on the back wall of the spillway shaft was begun on this date. About 1200 cubic yards remained to be poured.

June 9, 1941
Between 2,000 and 3,000 tons of sand cascaded down the dam’s downstream slope due to the heavy downpour early on June 9. It was estimated that replacing the sand would take three to four days. An earthen blanket was to be put over the sand after replacing it to prevent washout.

August 7, 1941
The dam proper was complete. However, the spillway and spillway tunnel were still unfinished.

August 17, 1941
The lake began to fill during the past week. A three-foot rock wall was being built on the lakeside of the dam to prevent anyone from tumbling into the lake.


1942

January 23, 1942
The parapet wall atop the dam was finished by this date. Employment was then 235.

March 3, 1942
Grass and oat seeds were sown on the dam to prevent erosion.

May 15, 1942
Water from the Missouri River backed into the spillway channel, washing out a small levee and filling the stilling basin. The only damage resulting from the incident was the loss of time until the water could be pumped out.

December 15, 1942
The county ordered the spillway valve closed and water impounded following an announcement by E.C. Reppart, state WPA engineer, that all WPA projects had stopped and must be stopped before January 29. The spillway was still unfinished before January 29.


1943

January 19, 1943
Despite orders by the county to close the valve in the dam, Reppart requested that this not be done due to specific work that needed to be finished. The only part of the unfinished dam was a small section of the spillway; however, it was anticipated that it would be many years before enough water would accumulate to run over the spillway.

May 10, 1943
The county received bids for the completion of the downstream drainage. The county understood that upon awarding the contract, the Army engineers would act favorably upon request to permit impounding of waters behind the dam. Before the work could be started, the War Production Board required permission. The contract would provide for the completion of the dam’s stilling basin and the construction of the drainage ditch and dike to carry the discharge waters from the dam to the Missouri River.

June 23, 1943
Construction resumed on the spillway financed through Wyandotte County after it was halted when WPA terminated work.

September 18, 1943
Two spillway valves were closed.

December 9, 1943
Final repair work on the dam and spillway was completed.


1945

October 10, 1945
The recently appointed county park board faces the problem of seepage. The seepage was lowering the level of the lake. Water was being lost through the adjacent bluffs; however, no funds were available to operate the park as desired, not including the cost of financing and investigation by engineers, drafting, plans for repairs, and the actual sealing work needed.

October 12, 1945
Several seal treatments were necessary to halt the seepage. The treatment would include the process of concrete grouting and pressure. Small holes would be filled with cement under pressure; the pressure would be maintained until the water seeping through the bluffs showed traces of the cement. The mixture would then be stiffened until the water flow stopped. The limestone in the bluffs between which the big earthen dam was built caused the condition; the limestone in this vicinity is quite porous. The water running through small channels in the rock strata caused the entire problem. The engineers reported that the condition might reoccur before the remedial treatment is wholly adequate.


1946

August 18, 1946
The grouting began during the previous week. The work was delayed because the county failed to get delivery on a drilling machine. One hole had been drilled; the second was halfway completed. The holes were drilled at ten-foot intervals for about 450-500 feet in a straight line beyond the dam. The holes were then filled with concrete under pressure. Roads at the north end of the dam were closed while the grouting was being done. The WPA did some grouting before the project was turned over to the county.

April 27, 1946
600 gallons of water escaped every minute of the day and night. Daily, enough water ran to supply a city of 9,000 people for normal daily usage. Burns & McDonnell Engineering Co. were the engineering consultant for stopping leaks. The county-owned the equipment and employed the crew, while Burns and McDonnell acted as advisors and supervisors. At the beginning of the project in February 1946, 300 gallons of water escaped every minute. Since that time, the water level had risen six feet. With the increase in the water level, pressure increased; therefore, the seepage doubled the amount of water lost. The drilling test indicated that the trouble area was 400 feet on the east side of the dam. To find the route of the escaping water, the engineers mixed the water with fluorescein, a green dye, and forced it into holes; then, they watched for the escape of the water. After tracing the routes, they put cement into the holes under pressure. The grouting was used to save the lake’s water and ensure the effectiveness of the flood control program. At the rate the water was seeping out of the lake, the water was dropping 4 feet yearly.

Year End Report

2022 Year End Report(PDF, 2MB)

2023 Year End Report(PDF, 2MB)

 Quick Facts

  • There are 54 parks.
  • The total acreage of parkland is 2600.
  • There are 58 shelters.
  • There are 42 tennis courts.
  • There are 3 baseball fields.
  • There are 15 softball fields.
  • There are 3 disc golf courses.
  • There are 3 lakes.
  • There are 2 boat ramps.
  • The distance of shoreline is 10.24.
  • There are 3 ponds.
  • There are 14 cemeteries.
  • How many miles of paved trails (concrete or asphalt)? 4.34.
  • How many miles of medians do we maintain? 28.
  • How many vacant lots to mow? 4175.
  • How many restrooms? 47.
  • How many snow route lane miles? 200.
  • How many square feet of floor space do we maintain? 112,616 sq. ft. in 10 facilities.