U.S. Army Corps fixing Table Rock Lake site

Sunday, January 25, 2009 | 5:15 p.m. CST; updated 9:07 p.m. CST, Sunday, January 25, 2009

SPRINGFIELD — A year after heavy rains caused historic flooding at Table Rock Lake in southwest Missouri, workers are close to repairing most of the damage in preparation for visitors returning this spring.

In some cases, the campgrounds and parks will be better than before the flooding.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' most popular parks, including Mill Creek, Old Highway 86 and Moonshine Beach, had to remain closed last year because of the damage.

These sites and others were upgraded with better electric and water service, new restrooms and shower houses, restored beaches, newly seeded grassy areas and playgrounds.

"I'm tickled to death with what we're doing," said Jim Sandberg, corps operations manager for Table Rock Lake. "This is what the public deserves."

The repairs are being paid for partly with $4.2 million in federal supplemental funding, Sandberg said. Whether all the repairs are done by the spring depends on the work contracts and the weather, he said.

"They've been working seven days a week as weather permits," Sandberg said. "They're doing all they can to get it opened on schedule."

Most of the corps-operated parks are scheduled to open on April 1 and May 1, with the largest number of visitors expected between May 15 and Sept. 15, he said.

Mill Creek and Moonshine Beach, which saw heavy damage, may not open as scheduled but should be ready by Memorial Day.

Sandberg has also applied for $1.6 million in federal emergency funds to fix asphalt under park roads and marina parking lots. That work should also be completed by May 1, he said.

Last year, March and April rains forced the corps to store water in Table Rock Lake to avoid causing worse flooding downstream. The extra water pushed the lake to a historic high of 933.25 feet, well above its normal summer level of 915 feet. It swamped campgrounds and shelters, stripped sand from beaches and washed away road and boat ramp foundations.

About 300 of the corps' roughly 800 campsites at the lake experienced some damage.

The damage took its toll on corps visitors as officials collected only $600,000 in user fees, half what they typically raise during a season, Sandberg said.

Commercial marinas around Table Rock Lake, as well as on Lake Taneycomo, which isn't run by the corps, suffered similar losses as the high waters hurt sales at area gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants.

Pat Nelms of St. Louis said he's looking forward to returning to Baxter Park, a primitive campground on the water's edge that he's visited for about 10 years but was inaccessible last year. He and his friends instead stayed at a commercial campground on Lake Taneycomo.

Greg Oller, corps lake manager, said Baxter Park is one of the few campgrounds not getting an upgrade, other than cleaning it up. He said the older campsite needs a complete redesign and the corps will wait in hopes of receiving money for the project in future economic stimulus packages.

"I don't mind," Nelms said, adding that he and his friends plan to be at Baxter Park in mid-May.

Sandberg said some of the upgrades have included making the sites accessible to larger, modern recreational vehicles. He said he expects to see more of those this year as the economy, similar to high gas prices last year, forces people to vacation closer to home — at least he hopes so.

"Are we going to see these 45-foot motor homes in the future?" he said. "That remains to be seen."

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