It’s going to be a little crazy, and that’s good — as long as everyone stays safe.
Here comes Memorial Day weekend 2018, and lakeside and riverside vendors are ready as officials ask people to remember safety rules and to exercise patience on Oklahoma’s lakes and waterways and in parks.
“There is a lot to be thankful for this weekend,” said Karen Young, owner of Burnt Cabin Marina and Resort on Lake Tenkiller.
On top of the holiday memorializing those who sacrificed all for their country, vendors are thankful that Mother Nature decided to roll out a red carpet for those wanting to celebrate, with lakes and rivers at near-normal levels and forecasts calling for sunny skies and high temperatures in the 90s from Saturday through Monday.
“This is year three, and finally we’ve got a normal lake and the weather looks like it’s going to be beautiful,” Young said. “The last two years we had those so-called 100-year floods. They need to retitle those,” she added with a chuckle.
A few off holidays haven’t slowed business on the lake, she said. Burnt Cabin added two new buildings this year to expand its restaurant and retail offerings as well as new shower and restroom facilities for campers and day-use visitors, she said.
Most campground and cabin spaces that could be reserved for the holiday were booked long ago, and those open for first-come, first-served were filling up Wednesday, according to park operators at several lakes.
Area lake levels are normal to only slightly elevated, and even the upper Illinois River appears to be falling in line for the holiday weekend after March rains flooded it and more recent rains had it flowing strong midweek.
“We have a little rise in the river right now, but it looks like it will be in good shape Saturday-Sunday,” said Trey Peyton of Peyton’s Place, a resort and float operation on the banks of the Illinois near Tahlequah.
The resort with raft, kayak and canoe rentals limited rentals to rafts only on Thursday, but Peyton said that by Saturday the river is expected to drop — possible pop-up thunderstorms and rainfall Friday notwithstanding — for safe use of kayaks and canoes on the river, as well.
The lower Illinois River should be improved for trout fishing and floating, as well, now that Lake Tenkiller is closer to normal levels and releases from Tenkiller Dam have been reduced in recent days.
The only lake in the area that is below normal level — and only slightly — is Skiatook Lake, but Army Corps of Engineers Ranger Jeff Walker said that “a good, normal, busy Memorial Day weekend” is expected.
“The campgrounds are already full,” he said Wednesday. “We expect a lot more people coming for day-use activities and expect good weather.”
Two popular swimming beaches at the lake, one at Tall Chief Cove and one at Twin Points, will be busy for the first Memorial Day weekend in some time, he said.
“With that drought for several years, Tall Chief was closed because the water was all the way out to the rocks, and last year it was closed for quite awhile with flooding,” Walker said. “Everything is normal again, and we expect there will be a lot of people here to enjoy it.”
Safety always is a priority when so many people are outdoors, especially when they are in the woods and around the water.
“We’re hoping people will be safe, and we are encouraging them to be safe,” said Ken Weiner, Army Corps of Engineers chief ranger for the Lake Tenkiller area. “Wear your life jacket, and you won’t drown.”
The reminder comes on the heels of a drowning Wednesday at Lake Eufaula. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported that a man was swimming after his boat, which had drifted away from a dock, when he perished.
“Creepers and crawlers” are another concern, Weiner said. A 6-year-old girl was bitten by a water moccasin at Elk Creek, near Cookson, on the weekend of May 12.
“When you’re in the woods and around the lake, just be mindful and watch where you are putting your feet and your hands,” Weiner said.
It is prime time to take protective measures against tiny creatures, according to Scott Meador, vector control program coordinator for the Tulsa Health Department.
“I can’t say if they’re higher or lower than in past years, but I’ve just been dousing myself in repellent and sunscreen every morning,” he said.
No mosquitoes have yet tested positive for West Nile virus, but the numbers are certainly increasing, Meador said.
“Without putting any science to it, I can say generally the warmer temperatures this past week, paired with recent rainfall, I’m sure has allowed them to flourish. There are many more present this week than last week,” he said.
In the woods and around the lakes, ticks are a major concern, since they can transmit pathogens that lead to Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and variations of Lyme disease and other diseases.
“Use a DEET repellent. Thankfully, it works for both mosquitoes and ticks,” Meador said. “Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and, of course, you need to do a ‘tick check’ when you get home.’ ”