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Storm-Ravaged Campground Remains Closed

August 18, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Despite an intensive cleanup effort following last week’s storm, the Corps of Engineers has closed Cottonwood Campground below Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, S.D., for the remainder of the 2010 recreation season.

The closure is forced by the extensive tree and facility damage the campground received during the Aug. 8 severe storm and takes effect immediately, Lake Manager Gary Ledbetter told the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan.

“The main reason we are closing now is the safety factor and protecting the public,” he said.

Winds of an estimated 70 mph hit the campground. The initial estimate of repair and cleanup is $20,000, according to Corps officials. Water-soaked soil from recent rains was a factor in some of the trees being blown over.

The campground was already scheduled to be closed Sept. 7 for an electrical upgrade, Ledbetter said. That closure, along with the length of time it will take to clean up and repair storm damage, will prevent the campground from being used for several months.

“The electrical upgrade alone will take us into early October, so it would be close to the end of the fee season,” he said, referring to paid admission for park usage.

The upgrade will continue on schedule along with cleanup, Ledbetter said. Nebraska Tailwaters Campground, another site sustaining major storm damage, will remain open for campers.

Cottonwood Campground may remain closed until spring, although a final decision has not been made, Ledbetter said.

“Typically, in the past, we let (Cottonwood) open for free camping during the winter, but at this point in time we’re not sure if we will do that this year,” he said. “We want to give ourselves plenty of time to get things done.”

While the Cottonwood Campground remains closed, the day-use area could open in two weeks if clean-up moves quickly, Ledbetter said.

Corps staff from the Fort Randall Project and other Corps offices are assisting in the cleanup. Minor damage occurred to project buildings, and debris is being removed near the visitor center.

Workers completed cleanup of the Nebraska Tailwaters campground Monday (Aug. 16), allowing the opening of tent camping areas, he said. Some cleanup of branches remains in the west end.

The Corps had sought to open Cottonwood Campground by Friday, in time for Riverboat Days, said Dave Becker, operations project manager for Gavins Point Dam.

“But the more we counted the trees that had to be taken down and the limbs that were hanging, and after assessing the damage to the structures, we made the decision (Monday) that we just couldn’t open it back up this year,” he said.

The Corps faces at least three more weeks of clean-p, Becker said. Most of the tree work will hopefully be completed by late September, he said.

The Corps also must repair a damaged comfort station and replace a destroyed fee booth, Becker said. The Corps may need to contract out the construction of a fee booth, he said.

The Frisbee golf course needs repairs, including new goals, Becker said. “We have a lot fewer tree hazards on that golf course. A couple of holes look a lot different,” he said.

The tree trimming and removal, along with stump grinding, will take much longer than first estimated, Ledbetter said.

He said the Aug. 8 storm was the worst to hit the campgrounds in the 10 years he has worked in his current position.

“We had some strong winds that have taken big branches, but not this extensive,” he said.

Becker received similar reports. “I have talked to folks around here, and they said it was the worst since 1985,” he said.

Weather radio alerts and park rangers warned campers of the impending winds. Campers went to the cement campground comfort stations for protection or stayed inside their recreational vehicles.

The storm produced no fatalities, and the lone injury was sustained by a fee attendant working in the booth at the time, Ledbetter said. The attendant was taken to Avera Sacred Heart Hospital in Yankton, and was treated and released.

Ledbetter commended the emergency crews and volunteers for their rapid response to the storm and its aftermath. The outcome could have been much worse, he said.

Becker noted the campgrounds were at a fraction of their usual occupancy when the storm hit on a Sunday night.

Cottonwood has 75 campsites and Nebraska Tailwaters has 42 sites. During the camping season of mid-April to mid-October, the campgrounds are normally more than 80% full and completely booked on weekends.

“The winds hit as the campgrounds were emptying,” Becker said. “There were an estimated 100 people in the Cottonwood campground and 40 in Nebraska Tailwinds at the time.”

Ledbetter believes that final decisions will be made in late September or early October on whether to close Cottonwood Campground for the winter.

The Corps will inform the public of clean-up progress and any further decisions as soon as they are made, Becker said.

“We want to make sure that we keep people up to date on the state of our facilities,” he said.

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