Corps of Engineers reveals plans: Tecumseh Park restoration to include roadway, parking lot and boat ramp but no campground
With the weather warming and the upcoming spring white bass run on many Ozark Countians’ minds, fishermen and lake-goers alike are wondering what will happen with the popular fishing area at the Tecumseh Park access.
The park and its lake access were heavily damaged after the floodwaters of the North Fork of the White River and Bryant Creek reached an all-time high in late April 2017, rising in an unbelievable torrent that roared over the Highway 160 bridge at Tecumseh during an historic area-wide flood.
The access remained hidden beneath the swollen lake waters until October 2017. After the water finally receded, it was apparent that the access had been impacted in a huge way. The asphalt of the roadway and parking lot was ripped away from the earth, and much of it was swept away. The boat ramp was completely gone, the campground and pit toilets were destroyed, and the water-side bank had become a treacherous mess of debris, holes and uneven ground.
After assessing the damage over a two-month span in November and December 2017, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed a plan and a cost estimate for renovating the area.
So, what will the access look like in the future? That’s what Mark Case, project manager with the Corps’ Mountain Home, Arkansas, office, explained to a group of about 70 residents who attended a workshop held Feb. 13 at The Center in Gainesville.
The short answer: The roadway, parking lot and boat ramp will be rebuilt, but the campground will not. Instead, the Corps plans to clean up the debris and plant the access area in flood-resistant trees and vegetation.
The proposed renovation
The Corps’ proposal includes repairing and rebuilding the entrance road from Highway 160 to a two-lane concrete boat ramp that will be located in the same area it was in previously, but it will be slightly larger than the previous ramp. The parking area, located just above the boat ramp, will also be replaced.
“The entrance road and parking lot will have to be reshaped, and some fill will need to be added to build a level foundation,” Case said. “The concrete boat ramp will be poured on site and placed in the proper location. The new ramp will angle downstream to make it user friendly during high river flows when loading and unloading boats.”
A portable toilet and a solar light will be installed, providing users with bathroom access and lighted access at night.
The proposal also includes removing the damaged roadway and other debris from the area, decommissioning the previous campsites, which were located in and around a looped roadway north of the bridge, and planting that area in flood-tolerant trees and vegetation. Case said the Corps will also remove what is left of the old pit toilet building that stood in the previous campground area.
“We no longer install pit toilets and are trying to remove them whenever possible,” he said. “The portable toilet will be installed above the new boat ramp parking lot.”
The proposed plan is estimated to cost $1 million.
On a large informational board at the meeting, the Corps’ presentation included a timeline of the projected repairs. It suggests that the Corps plans to accept comments and public input into the repair plan through February and then expects to finalize and submit its final budget sometime in February or March. Construction is set to begin sometime between November and December 2019.
“It takes this long to make the submittals, get the budget approved and complete the work,” Case said, when asked by the Times why it would take more than 20 months to begin construction.
The repairs are set to be completed by April 2020. Until then, the access will be barricaded off to prevent vehicle traffic. Case said he expects barricades will be placed at the access area this week. However, visitors are allowed to access the area by foot now and through the entire construction period.
Case said 50 local residents signed in at the workshop and about 20 additional people attended but did not sign in, leading the Corps to estimate the attendance at around 70. Case and other Corps employees explained the plan to the residents in attendance, providing several displays, aerial photos and maps to help attendees visualize the proposed repairs.
“I feel like it achieved our goal of getting the information out to the local user groups. We want to keep information flowing to the people most affected,” Case told the Times. “Through the meeting, and articles like [this one], it should provide the information to most of the local users.”
Comment forms were available at the workshop for attendees to fill out about the proposed plan, but Case said only half a dozen completed comment forms were turned in. Other local residents discussed in person their wishes for the improvement of the access.
“Verbally, most people want the ramp rebuilt first and then the primitive campground, if the money is available,” Case said. “Several people also commented on a variety of other topics, including the erosion of the shoreline, river sediment and gravel changing the pre-flood navigation channel and the condition of the other lake ramps and accesses on the upper reaches of Norfork Lake and Bryant Creek.”
Comments can be emailed to email@example.com through Feb. 22. Residents are also encouraged to call the Mountain Home Project Office at 1-870-425-2700 during business hours ( 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday) to discuss the project, ask questions or give input.
“We’ll keep the public informed through news releases and website postings. We’ll respond to any inquiry, whether it’s in person at our office, or by phone or email. The public comments are used to determine public opinion, interest in the subject and if there are additional elements to consider that we did not foresee,” Case said.
Campground’s history of flooding
Some residents expressed disappointment that campground renovations weren’t included in the proposal, but Case said the funds simply aren’t there to rebuild the whole project, and the Corps’ data shows that the road, parking lot and boat ramp were utilized at a much higher rate than the campsites. He said the access was used primarily to access Norfork Lake and the North Fork of the White River and Bryant Creek, and that access is the Corps’ top priority at this point.
An informational board titled “Camping Usage Data” displayed at the meeting detailed how little the park’s camping area had been used over the past five years. For fiscal year 2013, the park’s campsites were occupied 15 percent of the time, and $1,091 in camping fees were paid. Payments were collected in an honor-system collection box on site. In fiscal year 2014, the campsites were occupied 17 percent of the time, totaling $1,285, and in fiscal year 2016, the campsites were occupied 14 percent of the time, totaling $1,018 in fees.
While the campsites brought in just over $1,000 in yearly fees and were only utilized on average about 15 percent of the time, the cost to restore that section of the park to its pre-flood condition would cost an estimated $2.1 million – $1.1 million more than the proposal the Corps is currently planning to execute.
Fiscal years 2015 and 2017 camping fee usage data wasn’t available because the park was flooded and inaccessible during those years, an issue that the access area has continually struggled with.
“By nature of its elevation and location, Tecumseh is subject to flooding by both the lake and the river. The river impacts and damages the park extensively due to flow, as moving water has more force. This past year’s event was caused by the river coming down the North Fork and the Bryant,” Case said. “Historically it has flooded many times, and damage has occurred often, requiring repairs to the facilities and river bank.”
Case said he couldn’t immediately come up with a dollar amount that the Corps has spent on repairs, but he did confirm that money was spent as it became available to clean and repair the area from damage over multiple flooded seasons.
“The erosion of the bank has been a factor for many years, and the Corps has attempted to stabilize it with rip-rap; however, the flows last spring were too great, and the bank has been extensively eroded and damaged. The surface of the old campground area has also lost quite a lot of earth and is now even lower in elevation. It will now be flooding at a lower lake and river level, increasing the frequency that water will be flooded over the area in the future.”
So … what to do now?
With Tecumseh still an eroded, debris-filled mess and the lake access blocked from vehicle traffic, it is safe to say that fishermen and lake-goers will need to make alternate plans than accessing the water at Tecumseh for a while.
Case says until the construction is completed at Tecumseh, fishermen should plan to use other nearby boat accesses in the area including Bridges Creek (known locally as “Stump Hole” located off County Road 551B, known locally as “Smokey Road”), Udall (on O Highway), Liner Creek (on T Highway) and Calamity Beach (on County Road 24 in Clarkridge, Arkansas).
“We’re in the process of repairing the Liner Creek ramp, and Udall isn’t currently usable due to the low lake level, but by spring, all these ramps should be in working condition,” Case said.
Fishermen can also park on the shoulders of Highway 160 near the Tecumseh bridge and walk down to the shoreline to bank-fish, but Case urges those who do so to use caution.
“The earth is not level. It’s full of holes, and there is debris including old asphalt, steel, concrete and brick in the area. Use caution and good common sense when walking or bank-fishing there,” Case said.
Those who previously used the Tecumseh campsites may look alternatively at camping at the privately owned Rocky Top Campground and Cabins less than a mile west of the access on Highway 160 at the top on the Tecumseh curves. Camping rates, which include water and electricity, are $15 per night for tent sites and $25 per night for RV sites. The resort has 22 campsites, which fill up quickly during white bass season, owner Joe Easterday told the Times, so advance reservations are recommended. Cabins are also available at a range of rates. For more information, visit rocky-top-campground.com, call 417-679-0149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.