November 11, 2019

Lake Herman recovering from Sept. flooding - Daily Leader Extra : Top Stories

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Lake Herman recovering from Sept. flooding

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Posted: Thursday, October 31, 2019 3:33 pm | Updated: 4:23 pm, Thu Oct 31, 2019.

Two flooding events in 2019 and high water on Lake Herman going into the winter freeze make planning for spring at Lake Herman State Park a bit of a gamble, according to District Park Manager John Bame.

"We're going to do what we can not to impact recreation," he said in an interview on Wednesday morning.

However, he has no idea whether the new cabin will be built as planned or whether the electric pedestals in the lower campground should be replaced this fall as part of the planned upgrade. Perhaps upgrading electric pedestals should be postponed to avoid damage if there's more flooding next spring, he said.

This year, 15 of 72 campsites were out of commission for at least part of the year and two sites were not dry enough to use at all during the camping season.

Lake Herman wasn't the only state park affected by flooding, according to Bame. He said every park district in eastern South Dakota was hit at one time or another, and some -- like Lake Thompson Recreation Area -- had issues throughout the summer.

Statewide, the park system is believed to have sustained an estimated $9 million in damages.

In addition, revenue was affected by closures and a reduced number of available campsites. Lake Herman, for example, was closed for two weeks in September because the entrance was under as much as four feet of water as a result of flooding.

However, Bame prefers to focus on the positive. First, he was able to evacuate the park in September so neither of the campers sustained any damage.

"I really wasn't that concerned," he said, recalling the evening of Sept. 11.

Lake Herman was high, having received four inches of rain the previous night, and rain was in the forecast, but Bame didn't expect enough rain to impact operations. The following morning, though, before he went to work, he received a phone call which had him cruising the park to assess the situation.

"At 5:30 or 6:00, the waters were rising and they were rising fast," he recalled. "My first thought was to get up there, wake the campers and get them going."

Bame wasn't as concerned about the camper in the upper campground as he was about the host's camper in the lower campground. However, he wanted the grounds evacuated because he knew access would be limited.

In the end, they moved the host's camper into the upper campground. By the time Bame and the owner had it ready to move, it could no longer be safely removed from the park.

"The entrance road was above bumper deep," Bame explained. "We got their stuff in a safe, dry location and we got their vehicles out."

In focusing on the positive, Bame also noted how little damage the park sustained considering the severity of the flooding. For a week and a half, boats were necessary to access the park. Vehicles were left at the entrance.

The crawl space under the park office was flooded, and the shop was inundated with eight to 12 inches of water. However, after helping to evacuate campers, staff did what they could to prepare the shop for floodwater. This included raising oil, chemicals and equipment off the floor.

Because the building is tin and the insulation accommodates floodwater, they were able to clean it up when waters receded by taking out the cabinets and sanitizing everything.

Only one vault toilet was inundated with water; it, too, just needed to be sanitized. No shower houses were affected.

"We did not have a lot of major damage," Bame said, summing up the situation.

His list of positives included both the condition of the park residence, which he shares with his family, and the adventure his sons enjoyed as a result of the flooding. The residence was not affected, but the family did have to use a boat to leave the residence, which he believes was fun for his sons.

"We were just a commuting family for about a week and a half," Bame said with a laugh.

Since the water has receded, park crews have had to deal with both debris and algae. Because the algae could kill the grass, it could not be ignored.

"We had to actually get a sweeper and sweep the algae off the grass," Bame indicated.

As they did in the spring, park employees had to pump water out of the lower campground; plans when the area was developed in the early 1970s didn't include drainage. They also responded quickly when areas needed more riprap to prevent erosion.

However, some of the long-term effects may not be seen for a year or more. This is especially true of the trees which "don't keel over quickly," according to Bame. "There's a good chance that some of our trees will die from the flooding."

He explained that sometimes established trees are able to draw on inner reserves and survive the negative effects of flooding. However, this is not always true, and crews may need to be more aggressive in planting trees to maintain the canopy and shade that characterize the park.

Generally, though, he believes people can continue to enjoy the amenities of Lake Herman State Park on a daily basis.

"Unless there's water over the road, we'll be open," Bame said.

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