Eisenhower State Park was made possible by yet another flood control project carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This time, the offending river was the Marais des Cygnes, once infamous for destructive floods. Construction was authorized in 1954, but the project was not started until 1967. The lake was completely filled and dedicated in 1975.
Melvern Lake was named after a town a few miles east of the reservoir, and the state park was originally called Melvern, as well. However, in 1990 the state legislature renamed the park Eisenhower in honor of the president.
- Take Interstate 35 east out of Emporia.
- Take Exit 148 and turn north on Kansas Highway 131 (this will become South Hoch Road).
- Continue driving north for a little over 6 1/2 miles.
- Turn east on Kansas Highway 170 and continue for a mile.
- Turn right onto West 201st Street and continue for two miles.
- Turn north onto South Anderson Road and continue for a mile.
- Turn east onto West 293rd Street and continue for about three miles.
- Turn right on South Fairlawn Road to enter the park.
Eisenhower State Park features the natural scenery of the Osage Cuestas region. Prairie vegetation predominates, making this a great place to view native grasses such as bluestem, not to mention wildflowers. However, woodland is also included in the park. Trees include ash, elm, plum, dogwood, and cottonwood, among others.
This mix of prairie and woods provides wildlife lovers with a wide range of animals to enjoy. The birds are particularly diverse. The prairie habitats are home to hawks and prairie chickens, while songbirds lurk in the woods. Also keep your eyes open for bald eagles near the lake in winter.
Public hunting is available in Melvern Wildlife Area. Available species include white-tailed deer, squirrels, wild turkeys, bobwhite quail, and waterfowl. Furbearers are also present. For hunters under age 16, a Youth Mentoring Area is provided in the wildlife area on the north side of the lake.
With written permission, you can also try your luck in the extensive undeveloped area on the west side of the state park, near Crooked Knee Area. Shotgun and archery only.
For a little extra archery practice, you might be interested in the archery trail near Five Star Campground. Along the two-mile trail are 20 targets designed to provide different levels of difficulty. Please exercise caution—you are sharing the trail with hikers and bikers.
Fishing opportunities are diverse at Melvern Lake. The lake and river pond offer crappie, walleye, bass, and catfish of varying types. Also available in the state park are a children’s pond and fly fishing pond.
- Overlook Trail: For a quick way to stretch your legs, try this 200-yard path through Coeur D’Alene Park. It runs through the woods and ends at a scenic overlook.
- Breakwater Trail: A half-mile loop through Coeur D’Alene Park. This trail circles through the woods and close to the shoreline.
- River Bottom Trail: This trail in Outlet Park is about 3/4 of a mile long and is open to both hiking and biking. The woods near the river pond are the main feature. Interpretive brochures are available to help you identify the different trees.
- Marais des Cygnes Nature Trail: Often recommended as a good way to become familiar with the local flora and fauna, this interpretive trail is located in Outlet Park. The trail is roughly a mile long and explores the old river channel. Both hiking and biking are allowed.
- River Pond Trail: A gravel trail wraps around the river pond for about 1 1/2 mile to connect Marais des Cygnes Nature Trail and the River Bottom Trail. Hiking and biking are allowed.
- Scooter Trail: This loop is almost 1 1/2 miles long and connects West Point and Doud campgrounds. It was designed specifically for motorized scooters, but hiking and biking are also allowed. Woodland and a little bit of shoreline are the features.
- Tallgrass Heritage Trail: At the time of this writing, Tallgrass Heritage Trail extends about four miles along the south shore of the lake, connecting Arrow Rock Park and Coeur D’Alene Park. Hikers and bikers are provided with a diverse mix of natural scenery, including woods, prairie, streams, and shore.
- Five Star Bike Trail: This 5-mile trail explores the vicinity of Five Star Campground. Both biking and hiking are allowed, but be aware that you will be sharing a portion of the trail with target-practicing archers. This trail mostly runs through thick woods and is not known for spectacular views.
- Crooked Knee Horse Trail: This extensive trail system meanders through the west side of Eisenhower State Park, covering nearly 20 miles of natural beauty. Hiking, biking, and horseback riding are allowed. Enjoy woods and prairie, flowers and wildlife. The views are spectacular on this trail.
The state park visitor center is a good place for youngsters and newcomers to Kansas to become acquainted with the local plants and animals. Between the arboretum and the Nature Room, there is something for everyone. The rattlesnake is a favorite attraction.