The sunsets are still there. So are the eagles. And the deer.
Now, with access to the Missouri River mostly open in the Omaha metro area, the boaters, birders, anglers and nature lovers are back, too.
The reopening of Omaha’s N.P. Dodge Park and Marina recently and the April reopening of the docks at Bellevue’s Haworth Park signal more this year than the usual start of summer.
Boat access from these two parks finally puts an end to some of the metro area recreational impacts of 2019’s catastrophic flooding on the Missouri River.
Given the isolation and stress created by the coronavirus, easier access to the river and the reopening of Dodge Park is even more welcome.
“Freedom,” “peace” and “friendships” are how boaters describe the lure of the Missouri River.
Candi Marcantel and her boyfriend, Matt Morris, were like a lot of Omaha-area boaters when Dodge Park opened during Memorial Day weekend.
The first full day the park was open, the couple spent the entire day on the river. And they were back the next day. Within a few days, the couple had boated more than they had in all of 2019, Marcantel said.
“It was beautiful,” she told the Omaha World-Herald.
Lake boating, be it at Lake Manawa or Carter Lake, is no substitute for being on the river, she said.
“The river has a more free-flowing feel to it — as you motor up the river, shut the motor off and drift back down,” she said. And then there’s pulling up to a sandbar, getting out the grills and chairs and hanging out with friends.
“And absolutely, the sunsets are one of our favorite things about being out on the river,” she said.
That’s a story shared by others.
“We try to spend as much time on the river as possible,” said Trevor Holmstedt as he and daughter Frances pulled their boat out of the river.
Holmstedt said flooding, especially last year’s, has changed the river. The banks are deeply eroded, the river is wider and there are fewer sandbars.
Other public and private marinas have been open along the river, but Dodge Park and Haworth Park are the two crucial ones providing the metro area public access on the Nebraska side. As such, they save area boaters considerable driving time.
The small public dock at Lewis and Clark Landing along Omaha’s downtown riverfront probably won’t reopen this year, said Parks and Recreation Director Brook Bench. That’s because it still needs to be mucked out, and the timing of any cleanup or reopening would bump up against the planned reconstruction of the downtown riverfront. Once that renovation starts, the dock would be inaccessible.
Flooding has plagued the river since 2011, when historic high water closed river access for the entire summer. Subsequent years saw more minor, but still inconvenient, closures. And then 2019 brought catastrophic flooding. Dodge Park was closed from March 2019 through most of May 2020.
And neither Dodge nor Haworth Parks have fully recovered from the flood damage.
Only minimal work has been done at Dodge Park, just enough to make it safe and accessible. Roads have been patched, mud and debris have been cleared out of the marina and dock area, and numerous dangerous trees have been cut down.
Bench said the Dodge Park of old is gone forever — the soccer fields will not be back, nor will the campground. The future of the ballfields is uncertain. The playground and two picnic shelters have been torn out. There’s no public access to water or bathrooms, and there won’t be any port-a-potties.
Bellevue’s Haworth Park has had an even more limited reopening. Only the boat docks are open, according to the city’s website.
Those who use Dodge Park have been frustrated that the city took so long to reopen it after high water went down last year.
Bench said the city opted against trying to clean up and reopen the park last fall because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service warned that there was a high likelihood of flooding this year. Had the city cleaned up and repaired the park last year only to have it flood this spring, the city would have been out those costs, Bench said. Federal emergency dollars wouldn’t have paid for two cleanups.
“We didn’t want to do a massive cleanup and then have to do it again,” he said.
Work continues at the Dodge Park Marina, which is funded by memberships and accessible only to members. Marina memberships cost $1,200 to $1,900 per boat a year, and Bench said there’s a waiting list. Fees for this year are being waived, he said, because members paid their dues in 2019 but didn’t get to use the marina.
Anyone visiting either park will see the harsh effects of last year’s flooding. But that hasn’t stopped the nonboating public from visiting Dodge Park to fish, bird, walk or relax.
Victor Lara, who had neither a fishing pole nor a boat, said he was glad to see Dodge Park open. As he stood along the bank and looked out, he said he stops by every week.
“It’s peaceful. I like the view and to see the people,” he said. “It’s nice to get out.”
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