Commissioners seek remedies for flood-damage, river-access issues

Almost a year after the historic 2017 flood, some Ozark County water crossings still show signs of the damage it caused. Large stone blocks line the crossing known locally as the “cheese plant bridge” on County Road 503 south of the Gainesville post office.The blocks temporarily replace the washed-away guardrail, part of which dangles off the downstream side of the bridge over Lick Creek. Ozark County Western Commissioner Greg Donley told the Times Monday that FEMA had recently approved funding to replace the guardrail, rebuild the “rock blankets” under the north and south ends of the bridge and do other work to restore the bridge.

Ozark County Commissioners said Monday during their regular weekly meeting that as much as 3 to 4 inches of water still covered some low-water crossings around the county following several recent days of rain. Among the crossings mentioned was Warren Bridge on County Road 328 and Smokey Road (County Road 551B) on the east side of the county, and Haskins Ford and Steel Tracks on the west side.
The recent high water is a reminder that just about a year ago, some parts of the county suffered great damage due to an historic flood on April 30-May 1, 2017, that washed away two major bridges and several homes on the North Fork of the White River and caused serious damage to county roads and also devastated river-dependent resorts and outfitters.
The commissioners said Monday they are contacting government officials and agencies to ask how additional public accesses might be established to provide more put-in and take-out options for those who want to float the North Fork in their own canoes, kayaks or rafts.
Ozark County’s river outfitters are recovering from the damage caused by the flood (see the Rural Missouri story about the recovery of River of Life Farms reprinted on page 2), and soon the summer floating season is expected to bring a steady flow of watercraft belonging to those riverside outfitters. But the flood took away two important public accesses for those who want to float the North Fork in their own boats.
One was a public (although unofficial) access beneath James Bridge on PP Highway near Dawt. After the bridge was washed away by the flood of the North Fork, it was rebuilt by a construction company contracted by the Missouri Department of Transportation. But when the new bridge reopened in October, its support structure covered the area that had for many years been used by the public to take watercraft out of the river there. With that access no longer available, the next public access downstream is Tecumseh,  where the river and Bryant Creek flow into Norfork Lake.
But that access is undergoing major repairs and rehabilitation after it too incurred severe flood damage. Those trying to take watercraft out of the water at Tecumseh would have to land on a badly eroded stream bank and then carry their craft over the gullied bank to the shoulders of Highway 160 since Tecumseh Park is closed to vehicle access during the repair work, estimated to continued into the year 2020.
The loss of the public accesses means those willing to pay private outfitters and resorts to provide canoes, kayaks and rafts for floating the North Fork still have several good, convenient choices. But those who want to float the North Fork in their own vessels probably need to plan on putting in to the river at Twin Bridges (on Highway 14 /181 in Douglas County), Hammond Camp (on CC Highway) or Blair Bridge (on County Road 354) and float no farther than Patrick Bridge on H Highway. Otherwise the next realistic public take-out point is at the Bridges Creek access (known locally as Stump Hole) several miles downstream, below Tecumseh, on Norfork Lake.
The commissioners said Monday they’re aware of the problem caused by the loss of public accesses, and they hope to find a solution. Asked Monday if the county might develop its own public access if suitable land were donated somewhere on the river, they said they would have to investigate liability and other issues that might arise from such a plan.

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
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