Wichita-area officials hope soggy campgrounds won’t deter lake tourism

The Wichita Eagle

Come rain or shine, officials at major lakes around the Wichita area are hoping that people plan on making the trek this Memorial Day weekend.

According to the National Weather Service, the entire state is expected to see rainfall and potential storms through most of the weekend.

Mike Satterlee, a park ranger at Cheney State Park, said he doesn’t think muddy campgrounds will deter campers from flooding into the popular lake.

“Being the first holiday of the summer … people are ready to get out here, so I don’t know how much of an impact it’ll actually have,” Satterlee said. “It’ll obviously impact people’s festivities, but we’ll still have a good crowd.”

Rangers are hoping that will be the case, as Memorial Day weekend is one of the most important of the year for raising money for park operations, said Randy Just, assistant manager at El Dorado State Park.

“It’s amazing – the three summer holidays are kind of like Christmastime for retailers to us,” he said. “The weather makes a huge difference on what happens, and it puts a huge damper on it if the weather is rough.

“We’ve got our fingers crossed that if we do have weather, that we will not have storms or that it’ll just be overnight rain.”

Getting ready

Crews at Cheney and El Dorado lakes have been out all week mowing grass and preparing campsites for the influx of people.

Just said his crews at El Dorado have done “fairly well” at keeping the grass short.

“People like to see grass mowed, clean campgrounds and clean restrooms, and we do have that,” he said.

With the recent rains, water levels at the lakes are higher than they have been in recent years, Just said. The concern now, instead of hitting bottom, is to avoid pieces of driftwood that have fallen in the water, he said.

Most reserved campgrounds at both lakes already are taken, though primitive campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. And people usually start staking their claims early, Just said.

“Normally Thursday night is pretty big for us, but Friday night is the all-out run for the money,” he said of campers scrambling to secure spots at the lake. “Yet again, it all depends on the … weather.”

Just offered advice for people considering a stay at the lake this weekend:

▪ Most state lakes have Facebook pages. Before heading out, check the page for potential road closures and other information about lake conditions that day.

▪ If you don’t have to take your dog to the lake with you, don’t.

“It’s a strange environment, strange noises and smells,” Just said. “They can get nervous and confused. We’ve had pets turn on their owners even, because they got nervous.”

▪ If you plan on bringing alcohol, be courteous to fellow campers.

“A drink is one thing. Inebriated is totally another, and that doesn’t mix with boating or driving, either,” Just said.

▪ If winds are gusting at 30 mph, consider whether or not to take the boat out on the lake.

“In Kansas, an average breeze is 15 to 20 mph. People are used to that,” he said. “If it’s super windy, that puts a damper on boating traffic.”

▪ When driving at the state park, try to stick to the roads and not back out onto grassy areas. The grounds are saturated with rain, and driving over them could cause damage.

▪ Always check that your boat has all of the equipment the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism mandates. A list can be found at ksoutdoors.com/Boating/Required-Equipment-Checklist.

On Wednesday, El Dorado Lake was about a half foot above normal levels; Cheney Lake was about a half foot below its normal levels.

Soggy forecast

Forecasts from the National Weather Service indicate the entire state may be facing a soggy Memorial Day weekend.

In other words, more of the same, said Ken Cook, a meteorologist with the service.

“We’ve got a storm system moving in on Friday, and it looks like it will last for Saturday,” he said. “There’s more rain forecast on Sunday into Monday, and it won’t get out of the area, really, until Tuesday, and there’s another chance on Tuesday.”

In the daytime over the weekend, there will be “gusty winds out of the south,” and the area will generally remain humid as storms develop in the evening and overnight hours, he said.

The reason for the continued rain patterns: Southerly winds are bringing moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico, Cook said.

“When you get a lot of heating in the afternoon with a lot of moisture … that’s when we get the big, explosive-type thunderstorms,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of persistent rain events that move across the area, and that’s probably the most likely scenario this weekend.”

Gas prices down

If you’re planning a road trip over the weekend, you can look forward to Wichita’s lowest Memorial Day gas prices in six years, according to AAA.

Jim Hanni, a spokesman for AAA Kansas, said the organization is predicting a nearly 5 percent increase in road travel in 2015 over 2014. Lower gas prices, driven by increased U.S. production and a global surplus, are fueling the predicted increase in travel, he said.

“Gas prices are almost 28 percent lower in Wichita today than they were a year ago today,” Hanni said. “As a state our … average is, right now, $2.47 a gallon. That’s good enough to rank us … as the eighth-lowest state in the union.”

Hanni said the most important thing to consider when preparing for Memorial Day is to plan your trip ahead of time, instead of creating a plan as you drive down the road.

“I think that’s the secret to successful and fun road trips,” Hanni said. “Plan your trip, make sure you have the right supplies, don’t let your gas tank get down too low.”

Reach Matt Riedl at 316-268-6660 or mriedl@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RiedlMatt.