While many Kansas reservoirs were constructed to counteract flooding in the eastern part of the state, some were built to combat drought in the western part. The area of Webster State Park was settled rapidly during the late 1800s and even the first two decades of the 1900s, but after about 1920 a spell of population decline set in. Much of the early growth of the region was due to the optimism of the “rain follows the plow” doctrine. The decline was due to a vision-shattering drought which morphed into a terrifying Dust Bowl.
The leader of the movement to dam the South Fork of the Solomon River was a Rooks County woman named Lavina Fry. Starting in the early 1930s, she put her pen to work, requesting the attention of state officials. Progress could only continue if irrigation was possible, and a reservoir seemed like a sound choice. Mrs. Fry’s proposal met with approval among most state officials, but they could carry the idea only so far. To actually bring the plan to fruition, the resources of the Bureau of Reclamation would be necessary.
After persistent letter writing and lobbying, the Bureau of Reclamation finally moved to investigate the suggestion. A study of the area in 1939 convinced federal officials that a dam on the South Fork of the Solomon River would be useful for irrigation purposes. Bureau of Reclamation regional engineer William G. Sloan worked the proposal into a broader plan to irrigate the entire Missouri River basin, and in 1944 the United States Congress combined the Sloan plan with another idea from the Army Corps of Engineers to provide flood control across the region.
Under the Flood Control Act of 1944, the necessary authorization of Webster Reservoir was provided. Funds, however, were slow in coming. It was not until the Great Flood of 1951 that money was readily forthcoming for dam construction.
Work on the reservoir finally began in 1953. The town of Webster was in the path of the inundation, but in this case the residents were largely in favor of the dam—they had worked hard to see the plan come to pass. A new town was constructed two miles to the southeast without much protest.
The dam was officially completed in 1956, and irrigation facilities came next. The state park was added to the lineup of Kansas parks in 1965.
- Take U.S. Highway 24 west out of Stockton, driving about nine miles from the intersection with U.S. Highway 183.
- Turn left on 10 Road and continue for about half a mile to enter the park.
Webster State Park is located in the Smoky Hills, near its intersection with the High Plains. The vegetation that you will find at the park demonstrates much of the diversity of the former region, including mixed-grass prairie and limited areas of woodlands along streams. The wildflower display is superb along the hiking trail.
An interesting mix of animals call this park home. Both grassland and wetland birds can be spotted in the appropriate habitats. Along the river, watch for a posing painted turtle, as well as signs of mink, beaver, and raccoon. In summer, scan the cliffs for big brown bats.
Hunting is only allowed in the wildlife area west of the lake. Space is limited, so be prepared for plenty of competition (hunt during the week for a smaller crowd). Available species include waterfowl, quail, pheasant, turkey, and both mule and white-tailed deer.
Fishing is fairly good at Webster Reservoir. Your main opportunities most of the year will be crappie, walleye, wiper, largemouth bass, flathead catfish, and channel catfish. However, when conditions are ideal, you stand a good chance of catching a bluegill, white bass, or smallmouth bass.
Winter fishing opportunities are available at this park. Ice fishing can be productive. Rainbow trout are also stocked in the stilling basin from October through April.
Coyote Trail: A mile-long loop for hikers only leads out of Old Marina Campground in the Oldtown Area. Interpretive stops offer a closer look at the interesting flora and fauna of the park. You will see both grassland and floodplain habitats along the way.
Learn more about the town of Webster from the kiosk near the picnic area on the south side of Highway 24, just before turning off on 10 Road.