LAKE WILSON — Just last summer, Lance Smith remembers having to drive approximately 50 feet beyond the only open boat ramp to reach the water of Lake Wilson.
That’s a stark contrast to the scene last weekend, when the lake’s boat ramps partly were submerged. Boaters even had to wade through thigh-deep water to reach a courtesy dock, which last year likely would have been sitting on dirt.
“It was nerve-wracking when it was that low,” said Smith, who enjoys regular visits to the lake with his family to boat and waterski. “You never knew if it was going to come back for sure.”
Boaters this summer even have been able to navigate through the lake’s river channel, which hasn’t been this full in years, said Sharon Campbell, who was preparing to head out on the boat with Smith.
“We went a couple weekends ago back in the river channel. We hadn’t done that in four years,” Campbell said. “Before it was like just 2 to 5 feet (deep).”
Measurements from the U.S. Geological Survey show water levels have increased approximately 10 feet from May 2016 to May 2017.
The increase is largely due to an especially wet spring. The lake area received approximately 9 inches of rain in May, according to a report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The high water is a welcome sight for boaters, who experienced difficulty with shallow water last summer. Smith said his family once hit a sandbar in the middle of the lake, and only one boat ramp could be accessed for much of the season due to low water levels.
“We went from one extreme to the other,” said Willis Ohl, park manager of Wilson State Park. “It’s a real quick turn-around; that’s a lot of water moving. The boaters are loving it.”
The lake was full of boaters and campers during Memorial Day weekend — the unofficial summer season kickoff — and also drew a crowd the following weekend, he said.
Overall, the high water level is good news, Ohl said, especially since it reflects a lessening of drought conditions. Everything at the lake is lush and green, but the same area was seared by a wildfire due to dry, windy weather just a few months ago.
But the high water has drawn a few complaints. Sandy beaches are difficult to find right now as the lake has exceeded its normal boundaries. It also can make fishing more difficult.
“A lot of the fish like different depths of water,” he said. “When water (rises), they ... don’t know where to go. So that kind of makes fishing a little tougher.”
Summer fishing tournaments are continuing as planned, and several fishers could be seen trying their luck last weekend.
Two earthen slides also have been under repair adjacent to the entrance road to Lucas Park and on the downstream slope of Wilson Dam. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the slides were a result of the saturated conditions.
The Lucas Park entrance road was closed as a safety precaution, but a media release said there was no imminent danger to the public.
The lack of beaches didn’t seem to be stopping swimmers recently. Groups of swimmers in life jackets could be spotted near a popular campground.
As Barb Volle, Axtell, washed dishes and prepared for the evening meal outside her camper, water could be heard lapping against the grass, tree trunks and brush just a few feet from the campsite. A Russell native who had been away from the area for a few years, she was surprised by how full the lake was.
Her family had attempted to measure the water depth from the shore near their campsite and estimated it was at least 3 feet deep there.
“I was surprised it was up this high,” she said of the water.