Commonwealth Journal

May 22, 2013

Lake Cumberland all better in time for Memorial Day weekend

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

Lake Cumberland is a beehive of activity, and the first holiday weekend of summer is just around the corner.
It has been a long time since Lake Cumberland is near normal. For six summers the lake has been operated about 40 feet below pool stage to facilitate repairs at Wolf Creek Dam.
It’s all better now, just in time for the Memorial Day weekend. The lake is not completely full, but about 20 feet higher than last year; higher than the year before, and seemingly ad infinitum. 
Best of all, everything is nothing but up from now on. The dam is fixed, permanently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assures. There is a Lake Cumberland in your future, and for your children and grandchildren. There are new residents in the area who have never seen Lake Cumberland in all its glory.
Normally a lull in activities is noticed during days leading to a summer holiday. Not this year.
At midweek, the parking area at General Burnside Island State Park was crowded with boats and trailers. Parents and children walked along shorelines, looking at the water. A fisherman intently sought crappie among willows and growth on banks that have been bare for more than six years. More specifically, Bob Dalton was headed toward the still-unusable boat ramp behind the former Lakeview Restaurant with an armload of rods and tackles.
“I haven’t been down here for several years, but I decided to give it a try,” said the Somerset resident. Surely lunkers lounge in the sea-like depths.
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources experts say Lake Cumberland has a new lake effect for fishermen now that bare banks are covered with water. Six years of growth provide new cover for the lake’s teeming fish population.
Even though all of its more than 1,200 miles of shoreline won’t be washed until next summer, the 20-foot rise makes General Burnside Island State Park an island again, and Pulaski County Park is surrounded by water.
“The lake is in wonderful shape,” said Tom Hale, operations manager. Recreational areas are all open, and spaces are being reserved. If the weather is good, it looks like a great holiday weekend.
“The lake should be about at the target 705 feet above sea level by the weekend,” Hale said. The level earlier this week was just above 706 and relatively steady.
“We’ve been drawing it down ... it should be about 705 for the holiday,” he predicted.
Hale said at the first of the week there is very little debris up and down the lake and what little there is should be out of the way by the weekend.
Waitsboro Recreation Area, the popular camping spot between Somerset and Burnside, will be open by the Memorial Day holiday. The area has been closed so far this year because the Kentucky Department of Highways is making improvements to the road leading to the facility.
“The entrance road is done ... there is still some work to do,” said Hale, “ ... but it will be open by the holiday weekend,” Hale promised.
The campground at Waitsboro offers 17 RV sites, all with electric hookups, and five tent-only sites. Eight of Waitsboro’s sites are on the waterfront, making prime locations for weekend recreation. 
Fishing Creek Recreation Area, at the end of Ky. 1248 across from Pulaski County Park, is open and the boat-launching ramp is usable, Hale said. The beach at Fishing Creek is not open, “ ... we’ve still got quite a bit of work to do in the beach area,” he noted.
“As long as the lake stays above 700 feet (above sea level) the launching ramp at Fishing Creek can be used,” said Judy Daulton, park ranger for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The normal launching fee of $3 will be waived at Fishing Creek this summer, Daulton said. Fees will be charged at other Corps-operated recreational sites, she said.
Nobody was available for comment at Pulaski County Park when this article was written, but manager Vickie McQueary said earlier there has been a tremendous increase in activity since elevation of the lake level has surrounded the park with water.
“We’re having a lot of boats ... a lot of fishermen,” McQueary noted. The main boat ramp at the park, out of water for six summers, is now in use.
Located in western Pulaski County near Nancy, Pulaski County Park is owned and operated by Pulaski Fiscal Court. It is the only county-operated park on the lake.
On site, the park offers picnic areas, grills, shelters, 46 camping sites, playground, and 18-hole disc golf course, plus a Mountain Bike and hiking trails.
Camping spots at General Burnside Island State Park will be full.
“Our camping areas are totally booked,” said Judy Smith, a pro-shop employee at the state park. “We’re taking tee times now for the golf course ... we expect a busy weekend.”
Owners of larger boats will be able to use the boat-launching ramp at Bee Rock Campground during the Memorial Day weekend as well as this summer, according to Kimberly Morgan, spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, operator of the campground off Ky. 192 east of Mt. Victory.
“The 20-foot rise in the lake level has made this possible,” Morgan said. During the past six years when the lake level was held about 40 feet below normal, only canoes and kayaks could use the boat ramp, she noted.
Bee Rock Campground has developed campsites on both sides of the Rockcastle River. Bee Rock Trail provides a scenic view of rocks and cliffs overlooking the river. Folklore has it that honeybees once inhabited the jutting rocks in numbers to darken the sun; thus the name Bee Rock.
Morgan said fees at the campground are unchanged from last year.
The only factor that could mute the fun on the water this weekend is the weather, said J.D. Hamilton, owner of Lee’s Ford Marina Resort. A cold front pushing through the area Thursday will drive away summer-like heat, but leave temperatures in the 70s with only a small chance of rain during the holiday period.
“People are excited about the lake,” Hamilton commented, adding: “But the weather this spring has been depressing.”
Somerset’s magnificent water park opens for the season this weekend. Justin Duncan, an employee at the park, said the facility will be open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; on Sunday from 1 p.m. until 7 p.m.; and on Monday from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m.
To top it all, Somernites Cruise will stage its monthly extravaganza downtown this holiday weekend.