Flood’s Impact On Boating, Recreation

Nearly five months after the historic flooding along the Missouri River was declared over, the recovery lingers along the banks. And the river, itself, has changed dramatically.

As exhibitors set up at the CenturyLink Center for the Omaha Boat, Sports and Travel Show, opening Thursday, they’re optimistic this season will breathe new life into their industries. Although John Lawlor, of Omaha Marine Center, said last year wasn’t too bad. “Surprisingly, our business was up,” he said. “We thought it would be down. We’re not sure why it was up. It could have just been different elements of the economy.”

Lawlor suspects many of the boat buyers were among consumers who’d been holding back on such a major purchases. He said most of the sales came in advance of the summer’s flood.

Omaha Marine Center has reserved more space at this year’s Boat, Sports and Travel Show, expecting big crowds. Lawlor said, “Going into next season, everybody’s trying to be optimistic, but there’s four of the five marinas that have flood damage that may or may not recover.”

Brook Bench, who manages Omaha’s Parks Maintenance Division, assures the city’s marinas are making great strides toward recovery. He anticipates opening Lewis and Clark landing and N.P. Dodge Park to boaters by Memorial Day.

“We have a large crew in here,” Bench said just outside of N.P. Dodge Park, “and we also have a number of contracts here that will be starting within a couple of weeks, so it will be a lot more progress happening.”

However, not all areas of that park will rebound as quickly as the marina. The city does not plan to reopen the soccer or ball fields until next year. “We’re going to reseed this spring and it will take a year to come back,” Bench said.

Bellevue’s Haworth Park was harder hit. A spokesman for the city told Channel 6 News the clean-up and repair work is continuing, and they anticipate opening for public boating by late spring or early summer. Some limited campsite openings should come in time for Labor Day.

Lawlor has been staying in the loop on other area marinas, though, which could be questionable. “Castaway point in Plattsmouth got bad news from the Corps of Engineers about being declared a ‘flood plain,’ so we’re waiting to see what will happen with that. Then you’ve got the Cottonwood Marina in Blair is heavily damaged.”

Wherever boaters find their piece of the river, Nebraska Game and Parks’ Greg Wagner said they should exercise more caution this season. “Folks are going to see a changed river,” he said. “The sandbars they were accustomed to recreating on are not there… there’s more debris.” Some of that debris, he said, is substantial considering the flood uprooted hundred-year-old Cottonwood trees.

“There will be dramatic changes in places,” he said. “The channel may have changed.” Wagner recommends boaters do a “reconnaissance mission” of sorts, taking a slow trip up and down the river to get to know it post-flood.

He added, “If ever there was a year to prepare for the onslaught of insects, it’s this one. There are lots of backwater pools that exist with the river receding.” Those pools make perfect breeding grounds.

But he also said the flood created, “the perfect storm for fishing … organic food washing into the water, more hiding places.” He said many fish have washed downstream from the Dakotas. Salmon has been caught in northeast Nebraska below the Gavin’s Point Dam. And Walleye and Catfish are plentiful, he said, even fishing off the banks.

While Lawlor hopes that translates into boat sales, he suspects the trend toward fuel efficiency will grow with smaller boats and pontoons being the big sellers this year.

Outdoor enthusiasts can learn more at the Omaha, Sports and Travel Show. Doors open at 5 p.m. Thursday at the CenturyLink Center, and the show runs through 5 p.m. Sunday. Saturday is Kids’ Day. For more information, visit the show website by clicking here.

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