Lake Boutin swimming beach, Sheppard Point Trail at Trail of Tears State Park still closed

Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Geese are the only swimmers allowed in Lake Boutin at Trail of Tears State Park north of Cape Girardeau. (Kit Doyle)

More than a year after flooding and heavy rainstorms damaged two of the major attractions for visitors to Trail of Tears State Park, they both remain closed, and park officials say they don't know when they will be re-opened.

The Lake Boutin swimming beach has been shut down since the beginning of last June, along with the Sheppard Point Trail. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources cites erosion to the dam caused by rains and flooding for the closure.

Department spokeswoman Sue Holst had said the higher level of water in the lake put too much pressure on the dam, creating a sharp and sudden drop-off on the beach side of the lake.

Holst said last summer the department of natural resources would try to secure a contract to make the necessary repairs to the dam.

The beach was slated to have been opened by this season, said Trail of Tears assistant superintendent Jim Griggs. Griggs said he wasn't certain whether repairs to the dam had been made or even contracted.

Lake Boutin is closed to swimming at Trail of Tears State Park. (Kit Doyle)

The safety concerns from the flooding stem from having to lower water levels in the lake several feet last June, Griggs said.

"We were told there was some erosion on the dam's surface, and just to be safe, they said to pull the lake down," Griggs said.

Park staff used siphons to lower the lake and finished the job using a borrowed pump attached to a tractor.

Griggs said he wasn't sure exactly how many feet the water level was lowered, but that doing so had altered the designated swimming area.

The boundary surrounding the swimming area, consisting of permanent buoys, had become too easy to step over because the water is so shallow, and there was no way to restrict swimmers to the section of the lake considered safe for swimming, he said.

Holst said she was gathering information on the condition of the lake Monday afternoon, but did not return calls seeking comment by Monday evening.

In March, the lake was the site of the annual fundraiser "Polar Bear Plunge," and a 1-mile open-water swim has been planned for Aug 8., an event Griggs said is questionable right now given the condition of the lake.

"Right now it's all up in the air," Griggs said.

The Sheppard Point Trail, a two-mile looped hiking trail that ascends to a scenic bluff over the Mississippi River, has been closed after torrential rains in 2008 caused mudslides.

Park staff have been waiting on the completion of final repairs to the trail, including construction of the trailhead and a bridge crossing a ditch on the trail, Griggs said.

The majority of the work that needed to be done to repair the damaged trail, such as clearing some parts and rerouting others, is finished, but Griggs said he doesn't know when they'll be able to open Sheppard Point.

The new trailhead will be near the Greens Ferry shelter in the park, and more parking has been added, Griggs said.

The closures have affected camping numbers this year, which are down considerably from previous seasons, Griggs said.

All other trails in the park -- including the Peewah Trail, Lake Trail and Nature Trail -- are open to the public throughout the summer.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

388-3635

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