Devils Lake threatens Grahams Island access
Regular campers at Grahams Island State Park might have been surprised Tuesday if they tried to reserve a camping spot this year. The most popular camping destination in the North Dakota State Park System wasn't taking reservations. That's becaus...
Regular campers at Grahams Island State Park might have been surprised Tuesday if they tried to reserve a camping spot this year.
The most popular camping destination in the North Dakota State Park System wasn't taking reservations. That's because there is a good chance the park will not open this year, because the only road leading to it will be swamped by the rising Devils Lake.
The National Weather Service's latest flood forecast indicates a 50-percent chance that the lake will rise to 1,455 feet above sea level this year. That's the same elevation as the top of the five-mile-long paved road from N.D. Highway 19, 10 miles west of the city of Devils Lake.
Local officials have been trying to secure funding for a $14.4 million project to raise the road by 6 feet -- to 1,461 feet above sea level -- and engineering studies are under way.
But even if the federal and state funds are approved this spring, it's unlikely the road could be raised in time to provide safe access in May or June, when the lake normally makes its climb.
"We're preparing, going forward with the idea that we'll be operating," Grahams Island State Park Manager Henry Duray said. "There's a possibility that the road can be built, but I don't think it will be built up fast enough."
Last year, Devils Lake reached a record elevation of 1,452.1 feet, almost 3 feet lower than the road. But the lake still caused access problems, especially on windy days, with wind gusts up to 45 to 50 mph that were experienced last year.
"We had logs on the road," Duray said. "If we're within a foot of the top of the road, it'll be a tough decision whether we are going to open or not. We have to look at waves overtopping that road, and whether the road would actually wash out."
This isn't a new problem, especially since Devils Lake has risen by nearly 30 feet and quadrupled in size since 1993. The park has been closed twice before, in 1997 and 2004, because of lost access. It was raised each time.
The paved road, which serves as the county line between Ramsey and Benson counties, qualifies as a federal aid road. That means federal funding would pay for 80 percent of the construction project, if it is approved.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation's proposed budget includes $2.4 million for the project, while another $400,000 is in the proposed state Game and Fish Department budget, both of which are being considered by the state legislature.
Benson County, which is leading the project, is contributing $50,000, while $25,000 contributions have been committed by the Devils Lake Chamber of Commerce, Forward Devils Lake, North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, North Dakota Commerce Department and North Dakota Tourism Department. The local funds are being used for engineering costs.
Benson County also worked on the road over the fall and winter, adding riprap to provide additional protection from wave action on the lake.
Grahams Island has attracted an average of more than 100,000 annual visitors over the past 5 years. That's made Grahams Island State Park, a 1,000-acre facility -- on what used to be a 6,000-acre peninsula that's now an island -- North Dakota's most popular state park.
It also recorded 10,000 nights of camping in 2009, a record not only for Graham's Island but for the state. Grahams Island has 86 modern and 20 primitive campsites, with maximum occupancy of 120. Three other state parks have more campsites.
The state Parks and Recreation Department takes camping reservations during a 95-day reservation window, meaning reservations can be made no more than 95 days in advance.
If camping does open this year, reservations won't be taken until at least May 1.
"We've got to get through the next 2 months," Duray said. "By May 1, we're going to know if we're going to be open."