McLeansboro Times-Leader

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May 19, 2011

Reservations now required at Dolan Lake shelters

McLEANSBORO — If you’re planning a large family gathering or similar event at one of the shelter houses at Dolan Lake, be aware — reservations are now required.

With a larger shelter house now in its second year of operation, Hamilton County State Fish & Wildlife Area started a reservation program for the state park’s shelters in January, Mike Lewis, the park’s site superintendent, said.

Reservations for the shelters — as well as the campgrounds and cabins — at the state park southeast of McLeansboro are accepted online only at www.reserveamerica.com.

And users of the Web site, Lewis emphasized, must identify the park by its official name — Hamilton County State Fish & Wildlife Area — and not by the commonly used “Dolan Lake” when making a reservation.

Located at Kiwanis Point, northwest of the park’s restaurant, the newest shelter house is by far the park’s largest at 30 feet by 60 feet, compared to 16-by-24 for the others. It also has electricity, a nearby playground and restrooms, and it’s “a nice, isolated site,” all of which contributed to it quickly becoming the popular shelter choice, Lewis said.

“The new shelter site is so nice, so big, that we’ve almost had fistfights over it,” he said of its first year of operation, when reservations were not required.

Park attendance is more than 200,000 annually and has increased because of the new shelter house and other improvements, Lewis said.

“We’re looking for anything we can do to improve the services of the park without a lot of expense,” he said.

The improvements will continue with the addition of a boat launch near the new shelter house, Lewis said.

An effort to alleviate traffic problems at the existing boat launch near the restaurant, the new boat launch project will include a concrete parking lot with room for 10 cars and/or boats, he said.

Other as-yet-unfunded ideas Lewis is contemplating are an “astronomy park” — consisting mostly of signage, a telescope and a sun dial — and a small, unsupervised “water park” — which would basically just spray water — geared toward younger children.

“It would be an area you could walk through and get wet on a hot day,” he said. “Now I put out a sprinkler on a water hose.”

Both the new shelter house and a new cabin — which brought the  total number of cabins to five — are the result of a major donation from the Richard C. Weinmann Trust, which has provided financial support to several local projects — including the Hamilton Memorial Hospital expansion, the new all-weather track at Hamilton County High School and a new pavilion at the city reservoir park — since Weinmann’s death in 2007.

“It’s an important area in Hamilton County,” Ann Burke, who served as trustee of the Weinmann Trust, said of the state park. “Dick loved the outdoors. I’m sure he would have been tickled to know he helped improve this area.”

“If not for donations like Weinmann and the Sloans,” Lewis added, “there would have been no improvements at the park over the last eight years.”

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