Wes Watkins Reservoir, often called a diamond in the rough by locals, is shining brightly this year, according to McLoud City Manager Larry Dillon and visitors of the lake.

Wes Watkins Reservoir, often called a diamond in the rough by locals, is shining brightly this year, according to McLoud City Manager Larry Dillon and visitors of the lake.
“We’ve had more than 61,000 people at the lake since July 1 and we’re planning to add an equestrian trail,” Dillon said. “We’ve also had a lot of phone calls about deer hunting, so we will start opening it for that more too.”
Just days before the annual Blackberry Festival and as the Fourth of July weekend began, the city of McLoud took on management of the Wes Watkins Reservoir.
The reservoir was previously managed by the Pottawatomie County Development Authority.
The decision to change management hands came after months of debates between PCDA board of trustees members — which include Shawnee City Manager Brian McDougal and Tecumseh City Manager Jim Thompson — and was finally decided by Shawnee city leaders.
Shawnee city commissioners had the authority of deciding the lake’s management, as the city is responsible for its care due to tax-free bonds issued to Shawnee to build a treatment facility for water it draws from the reservoir. But several PCDA board members didn’t believe the change was the right move for the lake and didn’t want to open it up as it is now.
Previously, visitors had to pay to enter the lake area and the gates were locked at night. The lake also was closed from about November to late February or March.
Now, visitors may enter the lake free, 24 hours per day, any day. Fees for fishing, camping and boating were lowered with McLoud’s takeover, as well.
William Kiesel, a Midwest City resident, said he is especially fond of the lake and is very pleased with McLoud’s management of it so far.
“I’ve been coming here for several years but they would close about Nov. 15 and not open until February or March so back then, I missed all my cold weather camping,” he said. “I like camping in the colder weather because it’s not so crowded, it’s cool and it’s quiet. I’m not much of a fisherman but I do it for something to do. It’s quiet and relaxing now but it gets real crowded in the summer.”
Kiesel said he was concerned at first when he heard there would no longer be a fee to enter the lake but said that fear is completely gone now.
“I thought there might be more trash when they opened it up but there’s not,” he said. “They had lots and lots of rules before and limited access. Its prices are less expensive now and you can come and go as you please, 24 hours a day. Before, they manned the booth and you could go out any time but you couldn’t come back, so that’s an improvement. And it’s still nice and clean. But the water level seems down a little.”
Mike Freeman, from McLoud, said he is pleased with the lake now too, although he also had some concerns initially when the idea of McLoud taking over was mentioned.
“I have an annual pass that was issued by the Pottawatomie County [Development Authority] folks that is still honored by McLoud but I paid full price for it and it ends Friday, so I thought I ought to take advantage of it now,” he said. “It’s free to come out and look around but there are still fees for some things — they are just a lot cheaper. And if the Pottawatomie people had it, it would be closed right now.”
Freeman said he rarely brought his boat to the lake prior to McLoud taking it over but will launch it in the upcoming new year because of reduced rates and because his daughter and 17-year-old grandson are staying with him while his son-in-law is stationed in Korea.
“I come out here frequently and now I’m going to introduce my grandson to the lake,” he said. “The people who ran it before and the ones now are still nice, that hasn’t changed. But I’m retired and on a fixed income, so every bit I can save helps. McLoud is doing a better job sprucing up the camping areas and the McLoud Police Department comes down here to police the area and makes you feel better. They have been real nice and professional and make you feel safe.”
Freeman said he and his daughter, Angel Gumbiner, like walking along the shoreline to look for mussels and snails to take home to her aquariums, as well. But no matter what activities are added at the lake, he said one thing will definitely keep him coming back.
“The best seller for me is them reducing the price,” he said.
Johnna Ray may be reached at 214-3934.