May 20, 2014

Conditions looking good for Memorial Day weekend activities

Lake levels are good, fish are biting, gas prices have dipped, and the weather is looking decent.

Lake levels are good, fish are biting, gas prices have dipped, and the weather is looking decent.

Overall, things are shaping up for Memorial Day weekend.

Kansans will be among the 36.1 million Americans expected to travel at least 50 miles during the three-day weekend, according to AAA. If that holds up, it would be the highest number since a record 44 million people hit the road in 2005.

Kansans, of course, don’t have to go 50 miles to enjoy the outdoors as Memorial Day weekend kicks off the traditional start to summer.

Weather is the key to it all.

On the plus side, the heat that came back early this week is expected to subside. Weekend temperatures through Memorial Day on Monday are forecast to reach only the low 80s and dip into the mid-60s overnight, said Scott Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita.

It’s a little early to be too specific about weekend precipitation, Smith said, but there’s a chance for thunderstorms off and on throughout the weekend.

“We’re not looking for severe storms, though,” he added.

Any rain would be appreciated. Wichita is more than 7 inches below normal for the year after receiving only 2.56 inches since Jan. 1.

“Obviously, we need the rain,” Smith said, “so hopefully we can get some precipitation out of it.”

It’s also not expected to be as windy this weekend as it has been recently.

“Just general Kansas winds,” Smith said. “Not strong at all.”

Gas prices

Wherever you’re going, it’ll cost you less to drive there than last year, according to AAA figures.

The average cost of a gallon of regular gas in the Wichita area as of Tuesday was $3.41, with the lowest at $3.32. A year ago, the average price was $3.83.

Topeka’s average price on Tuesday was $3.32, down almost 60 cents from a year ago.

Rising supplies have pushed gas prices down. The Wichita area is nearly 20 cents lower than a month ago.

Nationally, Kansas’ average 49-cent drop from a year ago ranks sixth, trailing Minnesota’s leading decline of 78 cents, AAA said.


Memorial Day weekend is traditionally the busiest time of the year for the state’s parks and lakes.

El Dorado Reservoir expects to have 50,000 to 60,000 visitors this weekend, park manager Seth Turner said. Rumble Fish, a local band, will perform a free concert at 6 p.m. Saturday at El Dorado’s amphitheater by the Walnut River.

The droughts of 2011 and 2012 put a pinch on Cheney Reservoir’s numbers the past couple of years, but officials at the reservoir are expecting 35,000 to 40,000 people.

“And hoping for 50,000,” said Kathy Knowles, who works in the Cheney Reservoir office.

Reserved spots for Cheney’s 229 campgrounds with electricity were almost all taken by Tuesday, Knowles said. Cheney has 450 sites without utilities, also known as primitive campsites.

“And a tree if you’re lucky,” Knowles said.

About half of El Dorado’s 1,100 campgrounds can be reserved. About 600 of all campsites don’t have utilities, Turner said.

Fishing has been good at El Dorado and at Cheney.

“We’ve had a ton of people out fishing the last couple of weeks,” Turner said.

Despite the windy days, Knowles said, “We’ve been hearing about a lot of good fishing. Something has them going.”

The good news for boaters is that all docks are operational and the water levels are good. Cheney is a shade above normal; El Dorado is about 8 inches below normal.

Cost to enter a state park is $5 per day per vehicle, or $25 for an annual pass. Campsite prices range from $8 to $14 daily, depending on the site’s services, officials said. There’s also a $3 processing fee for each campsite ticket.


When it comes to boating, have fun but be safe, officials say.

Over the past five years, Kansas has seen 28 boating-related deaths. All but two of those were drownings, according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

Just Sunday, a 25-year-old Junction City man drowned in Tuttle Creek Lake near Manhattan after a 14-foot fishing boat carrying him and two other people capsized.

Wearing a life jacket is the top reminder on a list of 10 safety tips put together by the state agency.

“That is the most important thing,” El Dorado’s Turner said. “You think if you have the jacket laying on a seat, you’ll have plenty of time to get it on.

“But things can happen so fast on the water. It takes just a second for a boat to capsize. Have it on all the time.”

Of those 28 deaths, only four of the victims were wearing life jackets; other medical conditions contributed to their deaths, the state agency said.

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