Memorial Day lake crowds better than expected

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Although Memorial Day weekend is often viewed as the beginning of the tourism season in Barry County, few area marina owners had high hopes for the three-day holiday weekend this year.

Excess precipitation that fell in southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas in April caused Table Rock Lake and other local waterways to rise to record high levels, submerging campsites, marina access walkways and parking lots.

Over the last month, Roaring River State Park employees and area marina owners have worked to clean and repair facilities to accommodate individuals visiting southwest Missouri during the summer months.

"We had to add walkway to get to the shore," said Gene Stimble, Campbell Point Marina owner. "We raised our electrical meters and telephone lines higher.

"We got everything put back together, and we are up and running," said Stimble. "We hope by word of mouth in a month or so it will pick up more."

Darrell Tilford, Eagle Rock Marina owner, has not been able to complete repairs as quickly as Stimble, but he is also hopeful for the future.

"We don't have gas, and we aren't renting boats out right now," said Tilford. "We have almost had gas twice. We will have it in a week or so. We plan to be at least 85 percent profitable when the water goes down a little more."

Tilford has ordered more walkway to add to the 200 feet of walkway that he has used to extend the pedestrian access to the marina. He hopes to open the marina to the public as soon as possible, but for now, he is running a shuttle service from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. for annual leasees who rent boat slips on the marina.

"Everybody is doing the same thing, and the dock builders are booked up," said Tilford. "In addition to the damage we had from flooding, we were also hit by the storm in May, which did around $100,000 worth of damage at the marina."

The storm that hit the marina destroyed one marina office, twisted the dock and caused other damages. Tilford hopes to begin those repairs sometime this week.

"We hope to be completely operable by the first of July," said Tilford. "The storm caused quite a bit of damage, but a lot of our problem is caused by the high water. If we didn't have the high water, we wouldn't have near the problems we have."

Even though the Eagle Rock Marina is not operating at its full capacity, Tilford said more boaters were on the lake on May 24 and 25 than he expected.

"All we did all day long on Saturday and Sunday was shuttle people back and forth to the marina," said Tilford. "There weren't any boats on the lake on Monday though because of the rainy weather."

Stimble agreed that the weekend turned out better than anticipated.

"We expected the number of people visiting the marina to be very low, but it turned out to be a lot better than we expected," said Stimble. "Our numbers were down from previous years, but it was a very good weekend."

Stimble estimated lake traffic was between half and three-quarters of that he normally sees on Memorial weekend but said he has high hopes for the remaining summer months.

"The weekend prior to Memorial weekend was dead," said Stimble. "We hope the Corps starts letting the water down, and as it recedes, the lake traffic will pick back up to normal. I think they hope to have the lake close to normal by the Fourth of July."

Although boaters have been slow to return to the lake this year, many campers visited Campbell Point on Memorial weekend, said Stimble.

"A few of the campsites are still flooded but the campgrounds are open and there are plenty of campsites that can be used," said Stimble. "We are in full swing at Campbell Point."

Stimble said that he knows some boat owners have chosen not to visit local marinas, because many area marina parking lots remain flooded. He would like to assure boat owners that adequate parking has been made available.

"We have signs out to show people where to park and there are maps at the park office," said Stimble.

Campgrounds at Eagle Rock and Roaring River State Park were also full Memorial weekend.

"Our campgrounds were completely full," said Dusty Reid, acting park superintendent. "Our first-come, first-serve campsites were filled up by Wednesday morning."

Although Reid did not have information on whether this year's campers were from the local area or out-of-state, he did predict that the park will be used by more local residents this year due to high gas prices.

"Typically Roaring River is a vacation spot for out-of-staters," said Reid. "People usually come here to spend a week. We may see less of that this summer, but we expect to stay as full as we usually are."

Reid believes more Missourians will choose to utilize local parks because of the value.

"Statewide, Missouri State Parks are a good value," said Reid. "You can spend the night in Roaring River for between $9 and $16, or you can stay in one of the cabins or one of our local motels."

The proof of Roaring River State Park's vacation value could be in recent trout tag sales. Jerry Dean, hatchery manager, said that the park sold 1,235 more tags this May than in May of 2007.

"We are up for the month of May by 9.6 percent," said Dean. "We were down 4,000 tags in April, but in May we didn't have any real high water.

"I think gas prices will keep some of our regular visitors from out-of-state from visiting the park this year, but it could keep area residents local also," said Dean.

On Memorial weekend, between Friday, May 23 and Monday, May 26, Roaring River State Park issued 3,554 tags. Last year, the park issued 3,383 tags during Memorial weekend.

"We are still down for the year," said Dean. "We have sold 39,060 tags this year, which is 3,022 or 7.2 percent less than last year."

Dean said he hopes the positive trend continues to boost tag sales throughout the summer.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Table Rock Lake is currently around 929 feet. The Corps hopes to see lake levels drop to around 917 feet by July 15.

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