East County

Lake Jennings Turns Profit for 1st Time Ever After Improvements

An uncommon partnership has turned struggle into success in Lakeside.

The 3 billion-gallon Lake Jennings Reservoir in East County, managed by the Helix Water District, is now a popular fishing and camping destination.

That hasn't always been the case.

Several years ago, the lake's recreational campground was losing money and the district considered shutting it down.

"People didn't know that we were here," said Kira Haley, Lake Jennings Recreation Manager. "When you talked to people that lived right down the street, they didn't know that there was a campground up here."

In December 2014, the district hired Haley, who has a background in hospitality and changed the responsibilities of the recreation manager position.

"We're here to make sure people know that this place exists and it's a great place to come even if you're just looking for a hike or a place to eat your lunch," said Haley.

The district spruced up the landscaping, added organized activities for kids, and hired marketing consultants to increase its social media presence, enhance its website and create a new logo.

It also added a popular new feature at the campground: five teepees made of hand-stitched canvas and hand-peeled pine.

"It was really just a way for us to allow families that don't have camping equipment the easy opportunity for them to come in, [the] camp's already set up, all you do is bring what you need to sleep and there's a vinyl floor inside," explained Haley. "They've been getting sold out pretty much every single weekend since March. "

The district made a number of other changes: adding rental kayaks, repainting the restroom and adding a laundry facility for long-term campers.

Haley said occupancy rates improved over the last few years and the campground made its first-ever profit of $101,787 in the fiscal year ending June 30.

"It really means the Helix Water District is no longer subsidizing the cost to run a recreation operation, that Lake Jennings is self-sustaining, that we're able to even put a little bit back into some options of how to make this place more beautiful and better," she said.

If this keeps up, the district will be able to replace the original boat dock, built when Lake Jennings first opened 50 years ago.

There's also a plan to add more campsites to the 97 already in place.

"We have 344 acres so there's lots of space," explained Haley. "A lot of the ground is very hard though, so it will take some significant grading and work to create additional campsites."

The water district also wants to build an indoor space for people to rent out for weddings, birthdays, corporate picnics and other events. It would possibly be located at Hermit Cove, which can accommodate a few hundred people.

The campgrounds at Lake Jennings are open seven days a week. The boating area is open Friday through Sunday.

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