LELOUP Scuba diving in Kansas?
It may not be the Caribbean, but a recently opened recreational facility near this small town about 25 miles south of Lawrence offers divers the chance to explore sunken ships, follow underwater trails and observe 22 species of fish.
The facility, "For Scuba Only," is a camping, fishing and swimming recreation area featuring a 16-acre lake where diving instructors can take new underwater enthusiasts to test them for diving certification.
"This is the first facility especially built for divers in the Midwest," said Warren Sullivan, owner and operator.
Sullivan said up to 60 divers can take advantage of the clear water and open spaces offered by the spring-fed lake, which is part of an old rock quarry.
"THE REASON we did this is to have a close place where divers and the (diving) shops could bring their students," Sullivan said.
"You can drive right down to the water within 15 feet, and get in with your gear."
Sullivan, originally from Texas, is a 39-year-old Lawrence resident and diver who owned a restaurant for eight years in Lenexa before investing in the recreation facility with an unnamed partner.
"There just wasn't a place around here where divers can go and become certified," he said. "And so we started looking for a place."
Before Sullivan opened the facility, divers had to travel to lakes in Missouri and Arkansas, all of them at least five hours away, to be tested for diving certification.
Sullivan began the project last summer by obtaining his zoning permit and arranging a lease agreement with the owner of the property, Bob Killough of Ottawa.
"We actually opened last summer but it was so late in the year that there wasn't hardly anyone who got out here," Sullivan said.
WARMER SPRING weather marks the beginning of the facility's first full season, Sullivan says.
The diving lake is three to 25 feet deep and features underwater trails, signs, three sunken cabin cruisers, fish, and other items of interest for divers to discover. Swimmers also are welcome in the diving area.
Because of the warm water produced by the spring that feeds the lake, the lake's water temperature remains between 75 and 80 degrees, Sullivan said.
He said the lake's best feature is the clarity of the water, which, depending upon weather conditions, can offer divers underwater visibility of up to 25 feet.
"Last year we had an average of five to 10 feet visibilty. For the last three weeks we were holding 12 to 15 feet visibility.".
"If you go to some of the lakes around here the visibilty goes about this far," he said, putting a hand close to his face.
ADJACENT to the diving lake is a smaller, murkier lake stocked with bass and other fish.
More than a dozen campsites also have been established in the nearby woods.
"At first we just had this set up for divers, but we think it would be ideal for families and groups like the Boy Scouts or Girls Scouts," he said.
Although Sullivan does not rent out equipment or teach scuba diving, he has a first-aid station and is able to fill diver air tanks from a trailer, which currently serves as the facility's headquarters.
"We run a controlled, managed environment here where you don't throw fishing lines in where the divers are, and you don't have boats running around. That's a big plus," he said.
ABOUT THREE weeks ago, a 40-member Kansas University scuba diving class used the facility for certification.
Scuba certification requires several hours of classroom instruction and demonstration of pool and natural diving skills, he said.
There are four major accredited diving organizations that grant accreditation for divers. Sullivan said instructors working through two of those organizations use his lake for certification testing.
Divers who use the lake for recreational purposes must already be certified by an accredited diving organization.
He plans to be open Tuesdays through Sundays. Anyone interested in reservation information may call 841-6565.