Fellows Lake could become even more of a north-side recreation hub for “silent sports” like kayaking, hiking, mountain biking and bird watching, according to the vision laid out in a new Park at Fellows Lake Master Plan.

The City Utilities board got an overview of the master plan at its Thursday meeting and showed unanimous support for enhancing recreation opportunities at the lake.

CU hired Kansas City-based GLMV Architects to identify recreation opportunities that wouldn’t impact water quality at the lake, which is one of CU’s major sources of drinking water.

The report recommends a number of improvements. Among them:

  • A new multi-purpose Conservation Center building that would have space for community meetings and educational messaging about keeping the lake clean;
  • A modernized pavilion near the Miller Park playground that would be suitable to rent out for family gatherings or weddings. The concept would include public restrooms, not the portable restrooms that are currently in place;
  • A change allowing people to use stand-up paddleboards on the lake, which are currently not allowed;
  • Aesthetically-improved signage at the main entrance that would be more welcoming and educational for visitors;
  • Using landscaping and plants to improve the appearance of  the large metal maintenance building that dominates the view of the marina area;
  • Adding parking to accommodate more visitors;
  • Working with the Springfield Kiwanis Club to establish a modern playground at Miller Park, possibly incorporating a natural play area that blends with the landscape.

CU already is planning to remove the old marina, which has floated in the same spot for more than 60 years, and replace it over the winter with a new, modern marina at a cost of up to $480,000.

With the addition of more than 6 miles of “Dirt 66” mountain biking trails, currently under construction at the lake and eventually expanding to more than 30 miles of trail, Fellows Lake could become a major recreation hub in the near future.

“The consultant called it a diamond in the rough,” said Bob Wilson, CU director of water operations, in an interview before the meeting. “The upgrade in facilities would be something the community could use, especially on this side of town. It could be a centerpiece of recreation out here.”

a boat parked next to a body of water: Fellows Lake Marina rents kayaks, canoes and fishing boats and sells bait and tackle at the lake, five miles north of Springfield.

© Wes Johnson/News-Leader
Fellows Lake Marina rents kayaks, canoes and fishing boats and sells bait and tackle at the lake, five miles north of Springfield.

CU is still working to find a community partner who would lease and operate the new marina, scheduled to open next spring. Wilson said CU is also waiting on final bids for the marina replacement.

He said the new marina won’t have a floating store. Instead, the marina store will temporarily operate out of the CU maintenance building. It will still sell boat permits, fishing gear and bait, though the new operator will have some leeway in what it will stock there.

Eventually, the plan is for the marina store to move into a separate building adjacent to the floating marina. Wilson said the concept would be similar to the Lake Springfield Boathouse, which is operated by Springfield-Greene County Parks, though perhaps not on as grand a scale as that building.

a close up of a map: Newly named Miller Park at Fellows Lake encompasses about 20 acres near the Fellows Lake Marina, six miles north of Springfield.

© City Utilities
Newly named Miller Park at Fellows Lake encompasses about 20 acres near the Fellows Lake Marina, six miles north of Springfield.

Wilson said he hopes a community partner will work with CU to make the marina building a reality.

“We’re open to different possibilities,” Wilson said. “We haven’t set a budget to say this is what we’re going to build. Likely it will be someone who comes with some funding sources or grants.”

Wilson said he hopes to announce who the new marina operator will be soon.

The consultant looked at a number of recreation possibilities, but Wilson said one was rejected.

“Some things didn’t fit,” he said. “One was an off-road vehicle trail or park out here. That didn’t seem to fit with the silent sports we want to encourage out here.”

As the new marina becomes a reality, Wilson said now might also be a good time to look at some of the lake-use rules that have been in place for decades.  

CU allows limited opportunities for water skiing, but doesn’t currently permit stand-up paddle boarding or windsurfing. Because it is a key drinking water source, CU doesn’t allow people to swim in the lake, except on rare occasions, such as ironman events where swimming is part of the competition.

The current marina operator has had some good success working with CU to offer full-moon paddling events. Wilson said more of those night-time recreation opportunities might be possible, depending on who the new marina operator is.

Because it’s a drinking water lake, any significant changes in how the lake is used for recreation would need review and approval from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and possibly oversight from the CU board, Wilson said.

“Our challenge is that we want to be successful and have the community be proud of it,” Wilson said. “The master plan is to help us create a blueprint to entice our community partners to get together and see what we can do out there — recognizing it is a water supply lake.”

Wilson told the board there have been some inquiries from residents living near Fellows Lake concerned about the proximity of the new Dirt 66 trails to their property. He said all of the trails will remain on CU property.

“We want to be a good neighbor like we have been for a number of years,” Wilson said. 

Several board members indicated the master plan improvements, which would be added in phases over several years as partners come forward, would be good for the Springfield area.

CU General Manager Gary Gibson also noted that people who visit Fellows Lake might learn more about where their drinking water comes from.

“We can definitely tie in the education piece about their water source,” he said. “If they know more about it, they’re more likely to take care of it.”

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Consultant sees recreation ‘diamond in the rough’ at Fellows Lake

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