By Patrick MoesJune 8, 2019
At nearly three quarters the size of Topeka, Kansas, or 25 percent of Tulsa, Oklahoma, one might say the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tulsa District's John Redmond Reservoir is large.
For Mallory Reynolds, John Redmond Reservoirs only full time park ranger, she doesn't look at the reservoir near Burlington, Kansas, as large but as the place she calls home - for work anyway.
Reynolds is somewhat of a local to the area, too. She was born and raised in Chanute, Kansas, which is in the southeast part of the state and about 50 miles from Burlington. The city of Chanute is located on the banks of the Neosho River and is one of the communities downstream of the John Redmond Reservoir. So any water released from John Redmond will ultimately reach her hometown.
"We do it all here," said Reynolds about her daily activities at the reservoir. "We have recreation, we deal with all of the guests, we do interpretive work and teach the importance of water safety at local schools and libraries," she added. "Working for the Corps of Engineers has been a great time," she said. "I wouldn't trade being a park ranger for anything. I do absolutely anything that needs to be done."
Doing anything and everything is exactly what Reynolds has been doing for the past month following historic rains in May. "It's been a long month," she said about working 12-hour days, seven days a week but added that working side by side with her "work family" keeps everything in perspective. She said Brad Nelson, the reservoir's maintenance worker, and Brad Admire, a summer ranger, have taught her so much about the job and life in general. "As this flood watch drags on, it takes team work to keep it going," she said. "You have to keep each other going or the team will not succeed."
Ensuring the dam and all of the infrastructure continues performing as intended requires Reynolds to do a lot of different things. Part of her daily duties during the current flood includes patrolling a 4-mile long embankment. When patrolling the embankment, Reynolds said she is looking for "anything that looks odd or obsessively wet." She added that the daily patrols are important because they have never had to hold so much water at the reservoir or hold it for so long.
Despite the challenges of working during a historic flood, Reynolds said she understands the purpose of the system and what it means in reducing the flood risks to communities. She said that by holding water at the John Redmond Reservoir, it allows water from other areas across the region to go through the system of streams and reservoirs. Doing so allows the water at John Redmond to be released later and reduce the flood risks to downstream communities.
Working this flood event has taught Reynolds a very important lesson about water and Mother Nature. "Water is a powerful thing," she said as she looked at flood damaged areas downstream of the John Redmond Dam. "We need to respect Mother Nature, and we need to continue informing the public about how we are helping manage the flood risk."
Too often the public sees the reservoir as a great place to hunt and fish, but they can sometimes forget that it was built to reduce flood risks, said Reynolds. The reservoir is about 30,000 acres in size with nearly 18,500 acres managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and around 1,500 acres managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. Even though the reservoir has 105 recreation sites at three campgrounds, it is not the primary purpose, said Reynolds. "Ninety percent of what we do is focused on flood risk management," she added. "We just also happen to have great fishing and camping."