Park flooded by dam failure plans partial reopening in May

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

LESTERVILLE, Mo. -- State officials plan to reopen Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park by Memorial Day, but swimming and camping will remain off-limits as the property undergoes extensive repairs from a dam failure that flooded it.

Visitors will be able to watch restoration work, walk to some of the narrow gorges known as shut-ins and visit the park store. But many restrictions will be in place.

A large part of the restoration area will be fenced off, hiking will be prohibited in work areas, and shut-ins will be closed for swimming because debris remains in the pools.

"It would be opening what I would call the prime visitor use areas for basically viewing the facility and to learn about the event, how the park has changed and how the park is recovering," said Greg Combs, a field operations supervisor with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

The Taum Sauk reservoir ruptured Dec. 14, sending 1 billion gallons through the park.

Ameren Corp., the utility company that operates the reservoir, settled with the family but still faces hefty costs to cover damage at the park.

The company received its first bill -- for $151,967 -- in February and will receive new invoices every three months.

Meanwhile, officials at Johnson's Shut-Ins are pondering the future, holding a series of public meetings soliciting ideas on how to improve the park. Among the ideas under consideration are changing the campground location, adding interpretive displays to teach about the reservoir break and reconnecting the park with the Ozark Trail.

Ameren said the collapse occurred after the reservoir overflowed, weakening the earthen wall before it fell. Attorney General Jay Nixon is conducting a criminal investigation into the accident.

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