LESTERVILLE, Mo. -- Visitors to Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park near Lesterville can once again swim in the shut-ins beginning Thursday, when the park reopens for the summer.
"We are pleased that visitors will once again be able to visit the shut-ins, one of the main reasons people come to Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park and the area," DNR director Doyle Childers said.
Although this is the third summer visitors have had limited access in the popular park, the shut-ins area will officially open for swimming at 8 a.m. Thursday and remain open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Aug. 24.
Swimming will be permitted in "basically the same area [visitors could] swim in before this occurred," DNR spokeswoman Sue Holst said.
The park was severely damaged on Dec. 14, 2005, when a breach of a hydroelectric plant's reservoir sent a torrent of nearly 1.5 million gallons of water gushing down a hillside.
The force of the water scoured away trees and topsoil in its path, creating a gouge that left the bedrock exposed. Left behind was debris such as trees, silt and sediment.
Since the dam breach, crews have worked on stabilizing the East Fork of the Black River and restoring the park for visitor use.
The shut-ins area and the store are the only areas of the park that will be open for the summer. Visitors will be able to visit the store, which has toilets and drinking water, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Although the new boardwalk has not been completely finished, it does provide access to the shut-ins. All other areas of the main park remain closed.
There will be no camping available in the park this summer. The nearby area of Goggins Mountain, where the equestrian trail and trail head are located, is closed as plans continue for rebuilding the campground in that area.
"We have been in the design stage for quite some time," Holst said. "The main change that people will see when the park reopens is that the campground has been relocated out of the valley to the Goggins Mountain area."
Relocating the campground to this location will "give us a little bit more room to spread out," Holst said. "The previous campground was nice, but compressed. There wasn't a lot of space.
"There will be more space between each individual camp site [and] still be trees there. That will make the campground shady."
Initial plans, Holst said, call for putting in 52 camp sites, which is the same number of sites as were destroyed in the valley during the breach.
"We hope to expand a little bit more in the future, more sites [and] camper cabins," Holst said. "[The location] gives us space to expand."
Once the park is "fully developed and reopened," there also will be areas where visitors can access the river in other places besides the shut-ins area, Holst said.
Holst described those access points as resulting from the river being "totally modified and changed because of the breach. ... One of the benefits is access to [the river] other than at the shut-ins. People with small children can get in and splash.
"It's a different kind of access. I think people will find that to their benefit."
Officials had hoped to open the park for swimming earlier this summer, possibly by Memorial Day.
"One of the problems we ran into, we had so much flooding, winter storms, ice storms, we were put behind on our schedule," Holst said. "Because of the problems with the weather, we could not get it open as quickly as we hoped.
Holst said they are working toward totally reopening the park, but it is too early to say exactly when that will be.
The department also is planning an informational meeting this summer to provide the public with an update on progress at the park.