The Wakarusa River has had an ugly track record ever since white men settled along its banks. Every so often terrible floods swept through the valley and left significant damage in their wake.
When the Flood Control Act was passed in 1962, states had the opportunity to receive federal assistance in constructing reservoirs and other projects that would potentially aid in flood control. One of these projects was Clinton Reservoir on the Wakarusa River, named for a town located near the future west shore of the lake.
The money was appropriated in 1971 and construction began a year later under the supervision of the Army Corps of Engineers. As the building proceeded, the town of Richland was moved to higher ground and the remains razed. The ghost towns of Sigil, Belvoir, and Bloomington were also leveled.
The state park was dedicated in 1975, even before the lake began to fill. The Army Corps of Engineers let the water levels rise slowly to create an ideal habitat for a variety of fish species, deliberately leaving grass and other sources of shelter in various parts of the lake. By 1980, the reservoir was full, and within a year it was serving its purposes as a flood control tool on the Wakarusa River, a water supply for northeast Kansas, and an attraction for almost two million people every year.
- Take U.S. Highway 40 west out of Lawrence.
- Turn south onto State Highway 10 and drive for about 1 1/2 mile.
- Take the Clinton Parkway Exit and turn right.
- Make another right turn on E 900th Road (follow the signs).
- The state park entrance will be to your left on N 1415 Road, past the Army Corps of Engineers sign.
Clinton State Park showcases the beauty of the Osage Cuestas region. When the Army Corps of Engineers developed the reservoir and the surrounding area, they were very careful to take the natural landscape into account. As a result, the park is an excellent example of the way that prairie and forest mix in the Osage Cuestas. Oak and hickory trees line the bluffs and shore, while flowers and grasses also have their place in the park. Some of the area is even leased out to farmers, who use the land to raise crops while providing additional food and shelter to wildlife.
And the wildlife is particularly abundant in this park. The forest is home to beavers and songbirds, while bald eagles pass through seasonally. In the evening, visitors may see raccoons, coyotes, and gray foxes. Less welcome are the rattlesnakes on the hiking trails!
Amateur geologists will find plenty to enjoy at Clinton State Park, too. Aside from the hilly topography, layers of rock have been exposed along the dam that may be of interest.
Hunting opportunities are rich at Clinton State Park. Thousands of acres of public lands are available, and game species range from quail to rabbit to raccoon to deer. In winter, Canada geese, snow geese, mallards, and teal are plentiful both on the lake and in the marshes.
An archery range is also available near Campground 1 in the state park.
Clinton Reservoir has a good reputation among Kansas anglers. Species include walleye, crappie, bluegill, white bass, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and channel catfish. Rumor has it that the best fishing spots are near and below the dam.
Special fishing opportunities at Clinton State Park include a small pond just for children and Lake Henry, a larger pond stocked with trout every winter.
- Sanders Mound Trail: This is a short sidewalk, about half a mile long, through Overlook Park. A view of the dam is the main feature of this trail.
- Nature’s Way Discovery Trail: A half-mile interpretive loop geared toward children. Circles through the woods behind the Army Corps of Engineers Visitor Center.
- Backwoods Nature Trail: This interpretive loop is about 5/8 mile long. Explores the woods behind the Army Corps of Engineers Visitor Center.
- George Latham Trail: For some hiking off the beaten path, try this one. The trail is only about 4 1/2 miles long, featuring forest and shoreline. Primitive camping is allowed. Wildlife abounds, but so do ticks and poison ivy.
- Cross-Country Ski Trail: The state park offers 5 miles of trails specifically for cross-country skiing.
- Mutt Run Off-Leash Dog Trail: For pet owners, the city of Lawrence has developed a safe place for dogs to run free in Outlet Park. Mowed paths loop through fields and woods. The off-leash area covers about 30 acres.
- City of Lawrence and Douglas County Hike and Bike Path: A 9-mile sidewalk connects Lawrence with the Clinton park system. Considered a good way to exercise.
- North Shore Trails: This 23-mile trail system is one of the most popular in the state. Connecting Overlook Park with Clinton State Park, blue- and white-blazed trails along with numerous connector trails provide opportunities for all hikers and bikers. The Blue Trail is considered easier on the legs, while the White Trail is more challenging. Both trails connect to a precision bike trail, where advanced mountain bikers can test their skills on basic obstacles. Much of the trail system runs through forest, so watch for ticks. Also be aware that the trail can get a little muddy after a good rain.
- South Shore Trails: The South Shore system totals nearly 35 miles in length and is open to both hiking and horseback riding. Visitors can explore the diverse nature of Rockhaven Park, including forests, fields, and shoreline.
If history is your area of interest, you’ll find plenty of learning opportunities around Clinton State Park. The Bloomington Park area is home to the Wakarusa River Valley Heritage Museum. This museum honors the communities once located in the area of the reservoir and their strong Civil War connections.
Visitors to the state park are also invited to see the historic Barber Schoolhouse, a one-room stone building. To get to it, park staff recommend parking near the dump station at the entrance to Campground 1 and hiking E 700 Road to the intersection with 1400 Road. The schoolhouse is located prominently on the corner.
History buffs may also enjoy the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Visitor Center northwest of the dam. Besides exploring the history of the valley, the information at the visitor center presents the reasons that the dam was constructed. The flora and fauna of the area are also described.
Speaking of fauna, if you are new to the wildlife of Kansas, you might be interested in stopping by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks office. Live reptiles and amphibians are on display and seem to be a popular attraction at the park. Park staff also work to provide guests with mix of special events over the summer, ranging from concerts to triathlons to fishing tournaments.