By Lindsay Reed
Last Thursday night, the Shell Knob School gymnasium was packed for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' public meeting, which was held to gather public comments regarding the revision of the Table Rock Master Plan.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers representatives distributed literature and comment sheets to attendees as they arrived for the meeting, which was scheduled to get underway at 6 p.m., but did not begin until close to 7 p.m. due to the number of community members in attendance.
Corps staff members explained that the master plan is the "guidance document that describes how the resources of the lake will be managed in the future and provides the vision for how the lake should look in the future." The plan was last updated in 1976.
The current Table Rock Lake Master Plan estimated that the lake would see around two million visitors annually by the year 2010 but today four to five and half million visitors use the lake for recreational activities each year.
Planning for the revision of the master plan began in June. Information collected at the public workshops held in Shell Knob, Reeds Spring and Branson last week will be used to create a draft plan, which will be reviewed by the public next summer. The Corps hopes to complete the revision of the master plan by December of 2013.
Development of the revised master plan will include consideration of regional and ecosystem needs, project resource capabilities and suitability for various purposes and public interests and desires.
The main objectives of the master plan update are to maximize the use of the resources of the lake within the current policies and guidelines of the Corps, accommodate current and projected use patterns with maximum efficiency, identify and protect cultural and natural resources and attract maximum participation by the general public and local government in project development management.
The master plan does not address the details of how and where shoreline use permits may be issued, but it does set the stage for implementation of the shoreline management program. After the master plan revision has been completed, the shoreline management plan will also be revised.
The updated master plan will classify government lands around the lake based on environmental and socioeconomic considerations, public input and an evaluation of past, present and forecasted trends.
Land classifications will include the following:
* Project operations, which are lands required for the dam, spillway, offices and other areas for the operation of the reservoir.
* High density recreation lands acquired for project operations and designated for use as parks and recreation. New private floating facilities would not be allowed in these areas.
* Environmentally sensitive areas where scientific, ecological, cultural or aesthetic have been identified. The areas are managed to protect their environment resources.
* Multiple resource management lands, which includes: low density recreation lands for hiking trails, primitive camping and limited lake access points; wildlife management lands allocated as habitat for fish and wildlife; future or inactive recreation areas that are intended for recreation but have not been developed or have been closed; and vegetative management lands designed for stewardship of forest, prairie and other vegetative cover.
* Water surface areas including: water areas restricted for project operations, safety and security purposes; designated no-wake areas designed to protect environmentally sensitive shoreline areas and recreational water access areas; annual or seasonal restrictions on areas to protect fish and wildlife species during periods of migration, resting, feeding, nesting and spawning; and waters available for year round or seasonal water-based recreational use.
After offering information on the master plan, attendees were asked to complete a questionnaire and write some of their top concerns or requests on slips of paper, which were collected by Corps representatives.
When asked how they would like to see Table Rock Lake in 20 years, the audience's top three concerns were water quality, safety and the size of water vessels using the lake.
When asked what is most important about Table Rock Lake, attendees also identified water quality and safety as two of their top concerns. The answer that received the third highest comments was more free access.
When asked what one thing could be done to improve the lake, those in attendance once again identified water quality and safety as the top two issues. Audience members also said that boat size, speed limits, enforcement and boat dock requirements were top concerns.
Table Rock Lake offers over 745 miles of shoreline, 14 developed parks, 13 campgrounds with over 800 campsites, 100 adjacent resorts and 15 public marinas. The man-made lake was formed in 1958 and is around 43,000 acres in size.
The U.S. Corps of Engineers wants to hear from the public that recreates on the water, the businesses around the lake and everyone who will be impacted by the lake in some form or other.
Comments can also be emailed to M4TRMP@usace.army.mil, faxed to 501-324-5605 or mailed to Dana Coburn, chief, environmental branch, planning and environmental, USACE, Little Rock District, PO Box 867, Little Rock, AR 72203.
Written comments must be received or postmarked by Dec. 14.