Milford Lake: The Largest Reservoir in Kansas

Milford Lake is the largest reservoir in the state of Kansas, United States. The reservoir is not only an important safety factor for the inhabitants around it, it is also an important spot for recreational activities.

Milford Lake Stats

Lake NameMilford Lake
CountryUnited States
Surface area65.880
Maximum depth20.0
Average depth21.4
Lake typeReservoir
Catchment area64288.20
Shore length116.00
Residence time387.1
Trophic stateEutrophic
Average discharge42.232
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History and Inhabitants

Because of the adequate circumstances that can be found in the Milford Lake area, in terms of abundance in food, water supply, diverse topography and moderate climate, the precinct has been an attractive zone and was consistently inhabited for most part of history.

The first to live in this expanse were the big game hunters, known as Paleo-Indians, who inhabited the area 8000-10 000 years ago. The Arhaic Indians, who were hunters-gatherers, lived in the region from 0 to 6000 BC. In the Early Ceramic period, from 0 to 1000 AD, domesticated cow growers populated the region, while in the Middle Ceramic period, between 1000 and 1500 AD, village farmers resided in what we know today as the Milford Lake.

The Native Americans already talked about a great flood when European settlers reached the area, which supposedly happened in 1781.  The first major flood reported by the colonists took place in 1849, when a huge herd of buffalo drowned and was washed up into the top of the trees. Because of the heavy frost that winter, the animal carcasses served as food for the survivors. When spring arrived, the bodies began to decompose which was followed by a severe cholera outbreak that caused the death of many residents.

In 1935 another severe flood occurred, when locals recorded the highest combined flow ever for the Kansas River’s two main tributaries – the Republican and Smokey Hill River.

During the Great Flood of 1951, the last significant one before the construction of the barrage, the occurrence caused a flood damage worth $6 500 000 in the Fort Riley and Junction City areas. After this happening, there were many requests registered in local newspapers towards the federal government, to build dams along the three problematic rivers: the Republican, the Smokey Hill and the Big Blue River.

Construction of the Dam

The construction for a new dam was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1954, mainly concentrating on flood control, water supply, and better administration and monitoring of water quality, as well as on navigational and recreational purposes. Construction work began on the 13th of July, 1962 on the Republican River and was operated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

The dam has an uncontrolled spillway on its right bank, meaning that it doesn’t have any spillway gates such as the Tuttle Creek Reservoir. There were many contractors implicated in the project, whom built new roads, relocated railroads, facilities, electrical and gas lines as well as some parts of smaller towns. Alida was one of the towns most affected by the new edifice, since it ceased to exist. Broughton, which had two main railroads, suffered similar consequences. Many people who lived in the latter worked on the local railroad and still hold picnics in remembrance of town locals. Some portions of Wakefield and Milford were also relocated to higher grounds.

The filling of the reservoir began on the 16th of January in 1967. Six months later, with an elevation of 1144.4 mean sea level reached, Milford Lake was born to defend the Kansas River Basin. Its waters flow into the Kansas River at Junction City, thence into the Missouri River in Kansas City. From there the reservoir’s water makes its way into the Mississippi, which pours into the Gulf of Mexico.

Results after the Construction of the Dam

The first major flood after the completion of the dam occurred in 1993, which local experts say would’ve been much worse if it hadn’t been for the protection of the barrage. Because the rainfall was well above average, the ground became so saturated, that it couldn’t soak up the massive rainfall. Water levels were 10 meters above normal in the reservoir, so the main focus was diverted on saving the dam’s structure. The excess water was released through the uncontrolled spillway, directing it back into the river channel below the dam. For two weeks the water flowed through this spillway, which caused damage to the nearby highway and the channel below the dam. They were both repaired in 1996.

To avoid such occurrences in the future, the river channel dropped 3.7 meters in elevation through excavation.

Archaeological Sites

There is an important archaeological site near the reservoir, which consists of a small village, supposedly constructed by the Republican River Pawnee Indians sometime between the 18th and 19th centuries. Of the 81 artifacts that were recovered during archaeological explorations, specialists affirm that the precinct was only inhabited for a short period of time and was most likely burnt down. The village was built on a hill overlooking Republican Valley, serving as an advantage in defense. Six of the local artifacts are on display at the Milford Visitor Center.

The Pawnee village isn’t the only archaeological finding of the area. The Kansas Monument Site and the Hill Site are also located in Kansas state, close-by.

Tourism and Recreation

Milford Lake has over 130 km2 of land resources, managed as recreational sites and protection of local culture and wildlife. It is a popular tourist attraction in the Kansas state area, known as one of prime hunting and fishing. The main fish frequently caught by fishermen include catfish, crappie, walleye, white bass, smallmouth bass and largemouth bass. Some of the most respectable fishing tournaments in the country are held at Milford Reservoir. Hunters will be happy to find a large number of quails, pheasants, prairie chicken, ducks, geese, rabbits, turkeys, deer and squirrels. Trappers can encounter raccoons, muskrats and beavers.

Milford Nature Center and Milford Fish Hatchery have a number of interesting exhibits on display, open from April until October. Clay Country Park lies west of the man-made lake and is the ideal spot for bird-watching, with a large population of pelicans, wood ducks, green herons, gulls, cormorants, and northern cardinals. Corps Visitor Center lies in the southern end of the dam, with an insightful exposition on how the dam works and who inhabited its surroundings during history, complete with an impressive collection of fossils. The Kansas Landscape Arboretum houses more than 1000 species of native and exotic plants and is open every year from March to October.

Milford State Park has plenty to offer: from accommodation sites and a private yacht club to designated picnic areas and sandy beaches. Watersports, such as waterskiing, boating, canoeing, sailing and kayaking are also popular activities. There are plenty of hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails along the reservoir’s shoreline.

As it turns out, Milford Lake, also known as “the Lake of Blue Water” is not only useful for the community in terms of flood protection; it also serves as a popular holiday spot.

Milford Lake Map