El Dorado State Park campground gets needed improvement
EL DORADO — One of Kansas’ largest and most popular state parks just got better, and one of its campgrounds got a new name. El Dorado State Park, located on the shores of El Dorado Reservoir just northeast of El Dorado, received infrastructure improvements even though its budget couldn’t accommodate such work. A team effort from local volunteers, area businesses, and the Friends of El Dorado State Park, took a generous donation from Frontier Refinery and tripled its value. The campground is now officially named Frontier Refinery Campground.

The improvements include adding sewer hookups, upgrading electrical hookups and installing a heating system in the showerhouse. The campground is within the Walnut River Area, which is below the dam, along the Walnut River as it flows out of the spillway. The picturesque recreation area is popular and conveniently located just 2 miles from the city. The specific campground is busy during the regular summer months, but has been closed in winter because the facilities weren’t heated.

Camp hosts Virgil and Virgie Schowalter came up with the idea for the project. The Schowalters knew there was demand for more winter camping sites -- not from regular weekend campers, but because local companies, such as Frontier, bring in contract workers to complete specific maintenance during the winter. There can be more workers than available motel rooms, and workers can save money by staying in RVs at the park. The Schowalters saw the potential for increasing camping receipts at a time when the park traditionally had few campers.

The Schowalters contacted local businessman and state legislator John Grange. Grange owns and operates Carlisle Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc. in El Dorado and has served in the Kansas House since 2005. Grange has worked with KDWP through various legislative committees, and he was very interested in a project that would benefit the park, as well as the community. Grange made some calls to get community members on board.

“Through a public/private partnership, we were able to take a generous donation of $24,000 from Frontier Refinery and turn it into park improvements that would have cost more than $75,000,” said Grange at the ceremony dedicating the campground’s new name, Frontier Refinery Campground. The ceremony was attended by Bill Kloenlen, spokesperson for Frontier, as well as other Frontier staff, park staff and KDWP Secretary Mike Hayden.

The donation was turned over the to the park’s friends group, Friends of El Dorado State Park, and the project took off. Local businesses, including Big "A" Electrical Supply, Blackburn Construction, Ace Hardware, Heartland Monument, and Carlisle Heating and Air Conditioning made the project possible by donating or providing materials at cost and by donating labor. Schowalter, an electrician by trade, donated his time completing the electrical work, which consisted of upgrading the hook-ups from 30-amp breakers to 50-amp breakers. Local contractor John Schumaker donated much of the dirt work for sewer lines, as well.

The result is a campground that is now hosting contract workers, some of whom will work at Frontier’s facility, during a time of the year when the campground was normally closed. The park benefits with increased revenue, the community benefits, workers benefit, and next summer, traditional park users will enjoy improved facilities.

“This is clearly a win-win effort for the state park and the community,” Grange added. “I’d like to challenge other Kansas communities with state parks to explore similar partnerships and projects.”