UPDATE: Missouri seeking help in rebuilding flooded park

Friday, August 6, 2010 | 5:04 a.m. CDT; updated 11:42 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 6, 2010

BIG LAKE VILLAGE — When the Union Township levee failed June 17, it doomed Big Lake State Park. The Missouri River inundated some 40,000 acres, including most of the park's 407 acres. The waters have now receded, but a big mess remains.

"Our hope is to reopen some of the campgrounds, eight cabins and the general store by Labor Day weekend," said Judd Slivka, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, on Thursday. The state will spend about $100,000 for these Phase 1 repairs.

Al Schmurr and Lindsay McCormick, park concessionaires, are staying and committed to resuming full service. A Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer is the couple's new home. They lost their three-story, 2,000-square-foot home.

The summer started as the busiest in 25 years, Schmurr said. On a good weekend, there could be 3,000 to 4,000 people at the park, Slivka added.

Thanks to the DNR, the contents of most of the buildings, except for heavy equipment, were saved. In order to open in four weeks, the department is rotating other state park employees across the state for detached duty at Big Lake. Teenagers, working with the State Park Youth Corp., also are cleaning up.

Alex Rowland, 17, has been on his hands and knees, removing carpet and tiles at the motel, dining room and convenience store. Jessica Gillenwater, 17, started the summer at Big Lake as the pool lifeguard; now she's sweeping floors that Rowland scrapes.

Service organizations are volunteering for cleanup duties, too. This weekend, a Rotary and a Kiwanis club are coming to clean the pool.

"It's going to take every last ounce of daylight to clean the park and be ready for Labor Day weekend," Slivka said.

That won't be soon enough for at least one local businessman. "Having people back at the state park ensures my livelihood," said Charlie Triggs, who owns the Prop In Bar & Grill with his son, Josh.

The Prop In, just down the road from the state park, had 6.5 feet of water standing inside for three weeks. Triggs has materials and contractors ready to refurbish his business, and he plans to open before Labor Day.

The cleanup is a gamble. The Missouri River continues to remain above flood stage in Holt County, and the Union Township levee hasn't been repaired. A new levee created by some farmers is all that's keeping the river out of Big Lake, Slivka said.

"The corps has told us they intend to continue above-average releases from Gavins Point Dam until next March," he added.

The department considers Big Lake to be the largest remaining oxbow lake in the state. It has been part of the state park system since 1932, despite a long history of flooding. The 1993 flood closed the park for two years. Water reached the park on June 19 and the lake level rose 10 feet.

The DNR is looking for help in rebuilding the park and has embarked on a "Remake Big Lake" campaign to raise funds and awareness.

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