After flooding essentially turned Lake 20 into another channel of the Platte River last month, and washed out several roads within the Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is hopeful the popular recreation destination will be re-opened by May 1.
“We’re still shooting for May,” Jeff Fields, NGPC Regional Superintendent, told the Tribune during a phone interview on Monday. “The biggest thing that would be of benefit is if Mother Nature helps us out a little bit — but obviously we will see what happens there.”
While much work will need to be done in terms of determining potential contamination of water within the SRA’s many lakes, reconstructing roads washed away by flood waters, and replacing pads and electrical hookups at campsites — NGPC’s main focus is repairing the banks of Lake 20.
“Before we can really start fixing things, we have to worry about patching those holes where the river cut through Lake 20,” Fields said. “We are starting that process this week, and we’ll be hauling lots of dirt and trying to patch the really large breach on the south side of the lake.”
With work currently underway to shore up Lake 20, some of the other trouble spots are also being addressed.
Crews have begun already begun the process of opening up a new entrance into the Pathfinder Campgrounds, after a road between Lake 16 and Victory Lake was washed away in the flood. According to Fields, NGPC is also working with contractors to replace cement pads and electrical hookups at more than 20 campsites which were inundated by flood waters.
“Fremont is actually in pretty good shape compared to some other areas as far as the camping areas,” he said. “We had 20-some (camping spots) that we are going to have to replace pedestals on.”
Another popular spot that came away relatively unscathed is The Tow Line restaurant and convenience store on the south shore of Victory Lake.
“We were pretty blessed because the building itself is fine,” said Nicole Gillis, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband Dan.
While the restaurant was unharmed, many of the areas surrounding The Tow Line were impacted.
“The gazebo out in the lake is still under, our deck took on a little bit of water and we lost a lot of sand,” Gillis said referring to the venue’s popular sand volleyball area.
Gillis says she was relieved that the building was still standing after finally getting into the area nearly a week after the flooding began, but that the experience was somewhat surreal as she and Dan walked their way from the SRA’s east entrance.
“It was weird,” she said. “To see lakes that are now combined and water still going over roads and just the mud and debris that came in from the flood — I’d never seen anything like it.”
Now — as NGPC officials are shooting for a May opening date — so is the Tow Line.
“Our goal is to get open whenever we can, so as soon as the park starts letting people in,” Gillis said. “It will be a different park this year, but I still think it will be amazing.”
Gillis says that as soon as the lakes are re-opened, the Tow Line plans to resume its annual sand volleyball season and get back to business as usual.
While camping areas and the Tow Line were minimally effected by flooding — swimming, boating, and fishing opportunities may be less available depending on potential contamination issues after flood water made its way into a majority of the lakes at the SRA.
“The bottom line is we are going to have to renovate these lakes — which takes time and is expensive — but we have a priority list because all lakes except three had river water in them,” Fields said. “We will have to assess that and do some survey work.”
Testing of water in the 20 lakes by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality will take place over the next two weeks to determine which lakes are contaminated.
There is also the issue of unwanted fish that made their way into the lakes — Lake 20 specifically — and their effect on the ecosystem, Fields said.
“The high water brought a large influx of undesirable fish, carp primarily,” he said. “There are quite a few species of carp, but unfortunately those particular species will dominate a lake. They are something we don’t want in there, and they are something — once we get these holes patched to where we have a lake again — that we will have to deal with.”
As repair works continues, Fields thanked area residents for their patience and asked that individuals stay out of the area while it remains closed.
“There’s been a lot of people walking through and safety is our number one priority,” he said. “So please stay out of the area until it’s safe to do so.”
While sightseers are reminded to stay out of Fremont Lakes SRA, those who want to pitch in in the cleanup effort will have an opportunity in coming days or weeks.
Those who would like to volunteer can register online by visiting http://outdoornebraska.gov/volunteer/.