You wouldn’t think water could do so much damage to an earthen campground.
But here it is August, and the popular lakeside campground at Clear Lake State park in Lake County has just reopened after extensive cleanup and restoration needed in the wake of last winter’s flood.
The Kelsey Creek Campground, the largest of four in the park on the lake’s southern shore, began to welcome campers Aug. 4, hosting several dozen people over the weekend, park Superintendent William Salata said.
It will be operating on a first-come, first-served basis until the park reservation system is equipped to handle booking for the sites again, Salata said.
The wooded campground between Clear Lake and Kelsey Slough, has 65 sites.
The campground was among the casualties of heavy winter rainfall that raised Clear Lake a foot and a half over flood stage Feb. 9, inundating the low-lying campground for a month because of the slow rate at which floodwaters receded.
It was about March 10 before the lake dropped below flood stage, which is 9 feet on a special scale used to gauge Clear Lake’s height, according to Lake County Water Resources Director Phil Moy.
“But still, nine is quite high,” Moy said. “So it didn’t really get down to a more normal pool until the third week of March.”
In the meantime, parts of the campground were covered with something like four or five feet of water, Salata said.
Park personnel had to use row boats to reach parts of it. High winds whipped up the water, causing it to batter and scour away the ground, gouging out soil and breaking up trails.
Picnic tables floated away. Food lockers were wrecked. Camp stoves were washed out. Waterlogged trees failed and fell over.
“The campground had white caps on it, and the water was butting up to our cabin doors,” Salata said. “There was an accumulation of silt and debris and downed trees.”
More trees dropped in the sun and heat of summer, all the way into July, even as crews were rebuilding the campground with heavy machinery and road rock to shore up eroded areas, Salata said. They had to replace pantry boxes, fire rings, picnic tables and trails. The cost of recovery came in above $231,000, Salata said.
The park typically averages 150,000 to 200,000 visitors between Memorial Day and Labor Day, both day-use and overnight, but it also keeps Kelsey Creek Campground open year-round.
During closure last spring, campsites elsewhere in the park were opened to accommodate off-season visitors. But cancellations upset some campers, and the park lost revenue.
There remain some downed trees on the beach front, Salata said, but all sites are open.
More information is available at parks.ca.gov/?page_id=473.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.