The recent above average rainfall in the area has caused high lake levels that are causing campgrounds and recreation areas along the banks to be restricted, limited and closed, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mountain Home Project Office. Officials have also closed several parks and boat ramps at Bull Shoals and Norfork lakes.
"Campgrounds on the lake side on both lakes are still inundated," U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Norfork and Bullshoals Lake Manager Jon Hiser said.
Hiser said high water damage is extensive and substantial. "You are talking about infrastructure being underwater. Utility systems, roadways, structures; it would be just like a flood going through a community," he said.
With a season of tourism in jeopardy and a community waiting for a solution, Hiser said there is no quick fix.
"It depends on rainfall and down-stream conditions as to whether water can be released at a faster rate or a slower rate. Given the level of both lakes -- they are at record levels and have never been this high before -- it will be well into the summer before the lakes are back down to a level were the parks can really be assessed and work begun to make them safe and usable to the public," Hiser said.
"We are doing everything we can to make areas available but there will be some impact on the economy. We are doing everything we can to negate those impacts as quickly as we can," Hiser said.
Although many campsites and recreation areas are damaged or currently unusable there is still much for visitors to enjoy, Hiser explained.
"Overall, we want people to know the lake is still available. Just because there are park areas that people can't get to, there are still quite a few campsites that were high and dry that are still available," he said.
At Bull Shoals Lake, River Run, Beaver Creek, Theodosia, Highway 125, Tucker Hollow and Lead Hill Parks are closed. Buck Creek is open in a limited capacity at 25 percent open with electrical sites available in the B area only. Every facility in Lakeview and Pontiac is open while Damsite Park opened May 1.
At Norfork Lake, officials said Henderson, Georges Cove, Tecumseh and Woods Point are also closed.
Bidwell Park is 75 percent open with electric sites and shower facilities. Cranfield has campsites with electricity open at sites A1-7 open.
Jordan Park is 60 percent open with some electric sites while Robinson Point is 20 percent open with some electric sites and shower facilities. Panther Bay has hilltop electrical sites and shower facilities open, and Udall is 5 percent open. Gamaliel has all facilities open.
With so many closed, people who have paid in advance for their reservations to area facilities may not have a site secured, but their money will be.
According to Hiser, people who have prepaid for reservations at disabled campgrounds will be refunded their money. "Once the reservation is canceled at our request, there is no charge to the customer and a credit will be issued to the credit card or other means," Hiser said.
Corps officials encourage lake visitors to use extreme caution if boating on Norfork or Bull Shoals because of the amount of debris and flooded facilities.
Officials say to go slowly and watch for debris floating just under the water's surface. Hook up the kill switch and wear a life jacket. Ramps are hazardous and noone should go behind barricaded areas, corp officials said.
The Mountain Home Project Office said they appreciate the public's cooperation and patience as they continue to manage public lands and recreation areas during this flood event.
For more information about the lake levels, log onto the Internet at www.swl.usace.army.mil and click "Water Management." For additional information on Norfork and Bull Shoals lakes, contact the Project Office at 870-425-2700, Ext. 100.
"As the lake comes down we will be able to get some launch ramps open and people can really use the lake. Fishing will be better than it has ever been and boating will be perfectly safe as long as folks exercise a little extra caution. There is no reason people can't come and enjoy the lake," Hiser said.