For Matt Taylor, the magnetic draw of the lake is in his blood. As a two-year-old he played on the bank while his father fished. A decade or so later, Fellows was where he developed a lifelong love of sailing.
“This lake is incredibly fickle,” he says, with a smile that betrays deep admiration. “It has really weird wind, but if you can learn to read the wind and sail this lake, you can sail anywhere.”
The 860-acre lake was built by City Utilities of Springfield in 1955 to provide drinking water for the city of Springfield. Almost 30 years later, the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks (WCO) was created to monitor and safeguard the water quality at Fellows. That means there’s no swimming, windsurfing or fireworks allowed, but the lake remains a choose-your-own-adventure playground for outdoor lovers. Whether you want a view of the water over your handlebars, a chance at landing a supersized walleye or a lesson in trimming the mainsail — you’ve got your pick at Fellows Lake.
For Matt, the opportunity to come back to the place that gave him so much joy as a kid couldn’t be ignored. When he joined WCO as the lake’s operations manager last year, he already had firsthand knowledge of how the right introduction to Fellows could turn a visitor into a lifelong advocate for its future.
The lake’s wide variety of activities make up more than an outdoor wonderland for sailors, mountain bikers, anglers and more; they’re all important touchpoints for making visitors aware of the importance of the watershed and fit right into the WCO’s mission of education and outreach.
“If you get a child excited about an activity and involved in what you’re trying to protect, they’ll be passionate about it, too,” Matt says. “We look for different ways to engage youth and adults in outdoor recreation and sports so they can learn to protect the resource. That’s our jam.”
Since WCO took charge of recreation at the lake and the surrounding 20-acre Miller Park in March 2021, momentum gained around upgrading the infrastructure. A state-of-the-art dock replaced the original wood planking. A new park store, kayak launches, restrooms and an interactive, ADA-accessible playground are all on the horizon, with the potential to construct additional accessible fishing piers and boat launches, an observation platform and amphitheatre.
The amenities serve a multitude of different user groups who are introducing newcomers to the Ozarks and the outdoors. Spring is a particularly busy time of year on the water during May’s muskie fishing workshop at Fellows Lake — one of only five publicly accessible stocked lakes in the state where anglers can try for the famed “fish of 10,000 casts.”
Another popular feature of the surrounding Miller Park is a multiuse, singletrack trail circling the lake which is nearing completion, with 25 of the projected 35-mile course finished. A grand opening for the trail — funded by nonprofit Trailspring as part of its Dirt66 project — is scheduled for June 4 celebrating National Trails Day. During the same month, the lake plays host to meetings and events for groups ranging from the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society to Empower: Abilities to the Concrete Man Triathlon. Added to this are sailing regattas, a trio of moonlight paddles and managed hunts that occur throughout the fall and the winter and provide something for everyone’s outdoor tastes or skillset. All of it is located less than a half hour’s drive from Springfield.
“ ‘If you build it, they will come.’ We built it; They’re coming,” Matt says. “If you like doing anything outside: ‘Yes, we have that.’ ”
If you happen to lack the skills or the gear, WCO has you covered. The park store rents fishing gear, kayaks, canoes, sailboats and even motorboats (horsepower on the lake is capped at 40) for bass fishing. Fellows Lake also hosts American Canoe Association certification classes as an official ACA Paddle Club. Matt, a founding member of the Springfield Sailing Club, hopes to gain the U.S. Sailing Association’s certification for the lake by year’s end.
“This resource allows us to introduce our community to all the wonders of nature available right here in our own backyard,” Matt says, “and engaging the beauty of all the different natural wonders southwest Missouri offers.”
Fellows Lake is located at 4200 Farm Road 66 north of Springfield. The lake store is open from sunrise to sunset, March 1 through Oct. 31. For more information about recreation opportunities and upcoming events, visit watershedcommittee.org/fellows-lake.