Flooding keeps state park closed

Flooding keeps state park closed

Posted: Friday, May 20, 2011 9:02 pm

Staff Reporter
Jimmy Cox isn’t sure when he’ll be able to reopen Reelfoot Lake State Park, but he’s hoping to at least get the park’s Visitors Center open by Memorial Day weekend.
Cox, park manager at Reelfoot Lake, and other park officials are eager to get the state park reopened, but the water is still too high and there is still the task of cleaning up from all the flooding.
The state park has been closed since May 1 after floodwaters created an environment that was just too hazardous for the public, the park staff and even the wildlife that is housed at park facilities.
Reelfoot Lake State Park’s eagles, owls, hawks and collection of reptiles were all moved to other facilities earlier this month, for their safety.
The decision to shut down the park and relocate the wildlife kept at the Reelfoot Lake State Park Visitors Center was made when floodwaters at the lake washed over roads and swamped park facilities.
Getting Reelfoot Lake State Park back to normal is going to be a slow process, according to Cox.
Recent flooding at the lake also affected several resorts along Lake Drive in Samburg and the state park’s camping area east of the spillway had to be evacuated earlier this month.
All the storms that swept through the region earlier this month caused Reelfoot Lake to swell to levels that officials there hadn’t seen since lake levels were first recorded in 1940, according to Jeff Martin with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
It’s been a stark contrast to the water levels at Reelfoot Lake as recently as six months ago when a severe drought dropped lake water levels to historic lows.
“I really don’t have a target date (to reopen the park),” Cox told The Messenger. “We are still a good ways from opening back up.”
Cox said he is still waiting for floodwaters to recede so he and others can survey the flood damage and then work on cleaning up the park.
“It needs time to dry out,” he said.
Workers will have to inspect the damage and clean up picnic areas and the campground area.
Cox said repair work will also have to be done to several piers at the lake, including the boardwalk area behind the Visitors Center.
“It’s going down, but it’s going down so slowly,” David Haggard said.
Haggard, a regional naturalist for the Tennessee State Parks, said he plans to get out on the lake Saturday, weather permitting.
It is the weather permitting situation that’s one of the major obstacles to getting the park reopened. More rain has crept into the local forecast through next week.
With the park shut down due to all the flooding, all scheduled activities at the lake have been canceled, including pontoon boat cruises.
At the Eagle Nest Resort in Samburg, manager Ron Dyer said things are slowly returning to normal, but high water is still a problem.
“Things did get pretty bad,” Dyer told The Messenger. “We did lose a lot of business.”
Dyer said although Eagle Nest Resort remained open during all the flooding, the storms did have a major affect on his business. He said he and his staff fielded numerous calls from people asking about the status of the Fulton County levee and how bad things were at Reelfoot Lake.
Eagle Nest Resort normally sends out about 70 boats a day during prime fishing season, but could only send out 25 to 30 boats a day because of all the high water, according to Dyer.
The high water has created ideal fishing conditions at the lake, but the weather has prevented fishermen from traveling to the lake.
Dyer said all the flooding also kept him and his staff busy sandbagging around the resort. He explained about half the boats at the resort had to be moved to higher ground and the piers behind the resort are still about three to six inches underwater.
Dyer said it will likely be at least two weeks before things return to normal.
“It’s been the best fishing I’ve ever seen in my lifetime,” Blue Bank Resort’s Mike Hayes said about all the flooding at Reelfoot Lake. However, he added he has lost about 30-40 percent of his business due to all the flooding this month. Hayes said he was able to keep his Blue Bank resort open throughout all the flooding.
“I’ve about got things back to normal,” Hayes said.
He said the water is still high in the marina behind his resort, but the water is receding about an inch and a half a day.
The Pier Restaurant on Lake Drive in Samburg also remained open throughout the flooding ordeal.
Sandra Neely, one of the restaurant’s owners, said at one point she did consider shutting down the restaurant, “but I hung in there.”
“We managed to dodge the bullet,” Ms. Neely said. “We never lost a day, but we did lose a lot of business.”
Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by e-mail at kmbowden@ucmessenger.com.

Published in The Messenger 5.20.11


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