Watersports Campground suffer from lack of water
Few local businesses can trace their history back as far as Watersports Campground and RV Park.
The operation began in 1948 when Carl Morgison and his three sons came to town and opened a sand pit on the location in south Dodge.
"And all four families made a living there. Each family got $55 each week," said Olive Morgison, wife of Pat Morgison, one of the sons and now owner of the business.
The Morgisons pumped sand out of the area for several years, experiencing especially good years when new operations like the anhydrous ammonia plant needed sand.
Eventually the sand ran out at the Cherry Street location and Pat opened a second pit on Beeson.
In the early days, a campground was built near the lake as housing for sand pit workers.
And in 1974, a casual conversation at the Lamplighter Club led to a change of direction for the business.
"One of our friends asked us why we didn't open the sand pit up for recreation — boating, swimming, fishing — then they wouldn't have to go all the way up to Cedar Bluff every weekend all summer," Pat Morgison said.
"We asked him how much he'd be willing to pay for something like that. Then my brother and I went home and figured it up and we started getting the place ready for recreation the next day."
The brothers used waste sand to build an island suitable for boating and camping and a local tradition was born.
"By now, we're on the fourth generation of people raising their kids out here in the summers," Pat said.
"They have picnics and they drink a Hell of a lot of beer — it's been an outstanding experience."
When Colorado curtailed the flow of water into Kansas in the Arkansas River and more farms installed irrigation, the aquifer began to dry up and it got harder to keep the Watersports lake full.
The lake, which was 12 feet deep at points, required water pumped from a well to maintain recreational levels.
Then the drought set in.
"Pat has a tremendous well over there but the last two years the pump just couldn't keep up with the wind and the weather. 2011 was bad. 2012 was horrible," Olive said.
Another factor has been drainage from the city.
Large amounts of storm drainage end up in the Watersports pond, which helps raise the level, but it comes with large amounts of silt, which fill the pond and force boats to avoid the area.
Today, the lake is completely dry.
"We used to have outstanding fishing — that's all gone," Olive said.
Many of the campers from as far away as Colorado that were kept around the lake year round are gone.
Weeds have grown up in the bottom of the lake and the swimming pond.
"We used to call it Watersports — I don't know what we'll call it now," Olive said.
"The dirt bikes have a good time in the lake," she said.
Meanwhile, despite the lack of water for swimming or boating, Watersports continues to serve as a campground for travelers and increasingly for workmen in the area working on oil or gas leases or in the wind energy or construction business.
"Our biggest camp sites used to be 50 feet long. Now people are getting bigger campers so we're adding a new area of hook ups with more space," Pat said.
So while it's doubtful the campground will be as busy as the summers when 80 campers were scattered around the 2-mile perimeter of the lake and as many as 1,000 people enjoyed hot summer days and cool summer evenings there, the Morgisons are ready for whatever is to come.
"Things have a beginning and an end, whether we like it or not," Olive said.
Pat and Olive, both in their late 80s, still maintain their connection to the lake.
Pat oversees operations, hiring workers and supervising work on the new hook ups.
Olive continues a tradition she started in 1987 — walking the two miles around the lake several days a week.
With sometimes as many as 14 companions, Olive hikes around the lake then goes for coffee.
"As you get older, you just have to get up, get out and do it," she said.
Drought or flood, Olive has a plan.
"Life is what you make it. We've all got problems. You just have to work 'em out and go on."