Lake Waco, Brazos open for holiday boating, but flood damage lingers

Local boat ramps and waterfront parks have reopened to boaters and swimmers in time for this week’s Independence Day festivities, but bouts of recent flooding have left them worse for the wear.

High water and strong winds have caused significant erosion at Lake Waco’s parks since mid-May, when water levels crested at 16 feet above normal. While most of Lake Waco recreational areas are back open for the summer as of this week, Airport Park, the lake’s largest lakeside camping site, is expected to remain closed until Aug. 1, as lake officials get repair estimates.

“Since October, which is when our fiscal year starts, we’ve had three floods,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park ranger Mike Champagne said. “As far as finances go, we don’t have money to make repairs and the money we had was to maintain what we have. We’ve had to burn through that to fix stuff to get it over, but then we go through another flood.”

Also still closed are Airport Beach and day use area, Koehne Park, and the day use area and boat ramps at Reynolds Creek Park.

Still, the cleanup has progressed enough that Midway Park, Reynolds Creek Park campground and equestrian campground, Twin Bridges Park’s front beach, boat ramp and group shelter, Speegleville Park boat ramp and beach were all open for residents to use.

The day-use boat ramps at Flat Rock and Lacy Point are also open. On Monday morning, Lake Waco measured about 0.4 feet above the full pool level of 462 feet.

Lake Waco, a reservoir located entirely in the city limits of Waco, has about 10 recreational areas positioned around the lake. Champagne said Airport Park was hit the hardest, as waves eroded large chunks of shoreline from around campsites and destroyed electrical outlets and park shelters.

“The truth of it is, the purpose of the lake is flood control and it protects the city of Waco, protects downstream in Bryan-College Station, Houston and all of our water that goes into the Brazos River goes down to the Gulf,” he said. “We hold it back for them, but in return, we take the brunt of the damage on our own facilities, causing recreation to serve as a secondary purpose.”

Boat ramps also reopened last week along the Brazos River in Waco. Carla Pendergraft, marketing director for the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau, said with the majority of ramps open ahead of the Fourth of July, she is seeing more traffic on waterways.

“We are all delighted that they are finally back open,” she said. “Fourth of July is mostly aimed at locals, since nearly every town in the U.S. has its own celebration, but those who love water will have to really make a concerted effort to get out there to make the most of what’s left of summer.”

Interim city parks director Jonathan Cook said a key event for the city and boaters alike will be the annual Fourth on the Brazos and H-E-B fireworks show from Touchdown Alley at McLane Stadium, starting at 9 p.m. Thursday.

“This is our fifth year that we’ve had the event out here at Touchdown Alley at McLane Stadium and unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of rains over the past five years. In two of those years, we haven’t been able to have boat traffic,” Cook said. “This weekend, our boat ramps at Brazos Park East that are now back open were quite active throughout the weekend, so we are prepared, with the good weather, to have a lot of boat traffic.”

Cook reminded all boaters to have all occupants to wear life jackets and remember the Brazos River through Waco is in a no-wake zone.

Article: Waco Trib

By KRISTIN HOPPA khoppa@wacotrib.com

Photos: Staff Photos Waco Trib