Residents Show Overwhelming Support for Spring Fork Lake
Area residents showed their overwhelming support for Spring Fork Lake Monday night during a public hearing at Sedalia City Council.
Nearly 100 residents packed the Council Chambers, with 13 of them signed up to speak directly to Council members, all of them in favor of keeping Spring Fork Lake, and all of them against selling the 450-acre property to developers.
Spring Fork Lake is located about 12 miles south of Sedalia, south of Route V. The City of Sedalia has owned it for over 100 years. Sedalia used to get its water supply from the 125-acre lake, but now serves as a recreational area.
A cooperative agreement was entered into several years ago with the Department of Conservation to manage the recreational fishing aspect of the lake.
According to City Administrator Kelvin Shaw, “Keeping the property certainly has ongoing potential public benefits, while on the other hand, those benefits come at a cost. Therefore, if we are going to use public funds, we should solicit input from such public as to what extent they would value these benefits,” Shaw said.
A proposed deal to sell the property fell through last year, and some Council members seemed eager to get rid of it. That didn't sit well with residents attending Monday night's meeting.
Trish Yasgur, former Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries biologist, said she used to manage Spring Fork Lake, and noted that use of the lake has gradually increased over time, and especially during COVID-19. She sees people enjoying the lake in boats, in kayaks, and on the dock. “And I'd like to see that keep happening. I think it's an important resource for our community. Where else can you (access) close-to-home fishing? That's exactly what the Department of Conservation program is all about, and within 15 to 20 minutes of home. It's important to note that being outside in nature, is very good for our mental health and our physical well-being,” Yasgur said, adding that Spring Fork Lake is a valuable asset for our community, and we should keep it.”
Her comments were met with applause from the audience, as were most all of the other comments from residents supporting the continued ownership of the Sedalia area lake.
Jim Lewis noted how much wildlife there is to see at the lake, including eagles, deer, and turkey. “Give us a chance to enjoy the lake,” he told Council members. “I'm out there all the time. I bet I fish more than anybody in here. So I know the lake. There's lakes in Tipton, Warrensburg, Concordia, Harrisonville, Higginsville, you name it, we got the best one right here, bar none,” he said. “I was out there two years ago, and there were over 50 eagles out there. And they would fly right over your boat. That's awesome. There's deer all the time, there's turkey all the time, there's catfish. The day before yesterday, I caught one that was 11 pounds. And I was bass fishing. I've caught bass over seven pounds. I've caught crappie over two pounds. I've caught blue gill over a pound. There's just big fish (out there). People don't know that. It's just a great lake and please don't do anything to it,” Lewis said.
Dennis Thorton said he's been fishing at Spring Fork Lake since 1968 when he was a boy fishing with his dad. He said he fished the lake Monday and caught nothing. But he did pick up two full bags of litter. “I'm not above doing anything like that to preserve this wonderful area that we have,” Thornton told Council.
He added that he has personally taken well over 100 children to Spring Fork over the years so that they can enjoy the lake also.
Thornton has eight brothers and sisters and he said all of them and their families have fished at Spring Fork Lake.
He has also talked with many kayakers who call Spring Fork Lake a hidden secret and a true “honey hole,” adding that he doesn't want to see any changes made to the lake. “I would love to have that heritage for my kids and grandkids. I took out my great-grandchild two weeks ago, one year old. The peace and serenity that you get out there is amazing, you don't get it anywhere else,” Thorton said.
His comments to Council were met with applause from the audience as well.
Aaron Rowland, who arrived in Sedalia working for Nucor in 2018, said he spends a lot of his spare time at Spring Fork Lake. He described himself as an avid fly-tying fisherman.
“That truly is a hidden gem when it comes to fishing and wildlife, and it's a resource that is used by thousands annually in our community,” Rowland said, adding that safety as a kayak fisherman is one of his top priorities. “Spring Fork really does give us a place where we can fish in safety.
During the hearing, it was noted that former Mayor Bob Wasson (2002 – 2009) signed a proclamation promising that Sedalia would retain ownership of Spring Fork Lake for another 99 years. Former Sedalia City Councilwoman Susan Daniels came forward to say that she was there when that took place and could confirm that. She added that the paperwork verifying that should still be in the Municipal Building somewhere.
“I know that every single Council member signed that paper that night,” Daniels stated.
Marvin Logan, who lives west of Spring Fork Lake, said he feels that “We dodged a huge bullet when this deal fell through, because the same people who were trying to buy the lake, were trying to buy the farm between my house and the lake. He noted that there was a rumor that they wanted to build a cattle feed lot in the area. “I don't think anybody in Pettis County wants one of those,” he said. “I would love the see lake to stay just as it is. It's a peaceful, beautiful place, and it needs to stay that way.”
City Administrator Kelvin Shaw said that the City would make an online survey available to residents on the City's website to gather additional information.
“We greatly appreciate everybody's interest and (residents) participating in the process,” Shaw said.
First Ward Councilman Tom Oldham said, “I did not walk into council chambers assuming for one moment that there was a single person who didn’t want the city to keep Springfork Lake. It’s obvious that this lake has provided recreation and memories for decades. I’ve been split on the issue, and here’s why; the amount it could cost the taxpayer. The cost of maintenance could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, we have to rebuild the damn, and if we are going to keep this as a gem of Sedalia, eventually we need to look at building the resources it needs out there. Resources such better parking, shelters, sheds, walking paths. Ultimately I will always vote the way my constituents want me to vote and It’s rather clear how they would like me to. Last night’s public hearing had a fantastic turn out, however, we still need to hear from others who were not able to make it, so an online survey will be sent out. While that data is being collected, I directed staff to create a very brief comprehensive plan and lake management plan for Spring Fork. When council makes a decision, it’s not a decision that just affects us and tomorrow, it is a decision that affects the next generation and years to come.”
Fourth Ward Councilwoman and Sedalia Mayor Pro Tem Rhiannon Foster commented, "I was overwhelmed with delight to see Council Chambers filled. Our job as City Council members is to represent the citizens of Sedalia & now we have a lot of input on what they want the future of Spring Fork Lake to be. I look forward to reading the forthcoming surveys and having a productive work session to continue to keep our Lake thriving. I would like to thank everyone who took the time to join us last night & I invite them to join us more often."
Sedalia Mayor Andrew Dawson said "I was just thrilled and grateful that we were able to get public input from that many people. It’s great when people take the time out of their busy lives to get involved in the process. I’m excited for the next steps, gathering data, more community input through an online survey and then working with council to come up with a sustainable long range plan for Spring Fork Lake."
In the top photo: City Administrator Kelvin Shaw hands out maps showing Spring Fork Lake to residents attending a public hearing on the fate of the lake Monday night at Sedalia City Council.