OMAHA, Neb. - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, manages more 235 parks and recreation areas, over 400,000 acres of public lands, and more than one million acres of water surface areas.
While USACE is more widely known for building, operating, and maintaining dams and levees as a critical part of the world’s infrastructures; the water supply, hydropower, and land management created from these projects has benefit the public to use for family recreation purposes. The organization developed its parks and recreation mission immediately as an outcome of creating dams and levees for flood control.
Zach Montreuil, who has eight years of experience as a USACE park ranger and currently oversees the environmental stewardship and recreation programs for the District, said “When the Corps of Engineers built the dams and reservoirs projects, it was known right away, even as early as 1940, that people would want to recreate in these lakes that would be created as a result of these dams. The dams are built for flood control, hydroelectric power, and fish and wildlife enhancement, and irrigation throughout the District.”
In order to support the mission and promote environmental stewardship of these public lands, the Omaha District currently has more than 5 park rangers, 13 biologists, and 41 natural resource specialist s who work throughout parks in Colorado, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, and Montana.
Each location is different and offers a variety of activities for the public to enjoy.
Gavins Point Dam and power plant, in Yankton, South Dakota, creates Lewis & Clark Lake and is nestled in chalkstone-lined valley of the Missouri River. The Gavins Point Recreation Area has campsites and cabins along Lake Yankton, where visitors can launch their boat or swim. In addition, this site has a seven-mile hiking and biking trail runs along the lakeshore and passes right through the campground.
Fort Peck Dam in Montana, creates Fort Peck Lake, the fifth largest artificial lake in the U.S. measuring more than 130-miles long. Not only can the public enjoy water sports, hiking, and wildlife refuges, but when visiting the Fort Peck Interpretive Center, guests can enjoy a hands-on exhibit of the T-Rex which was uncovered in 1997. This skeleton fossil was found to be the second most complete in the world at 75%.According to Montreuil, water-based activities are the most popular throughout the District’s public lands.
“Boating, fishing, kayaking, paddling, and paddle boarding have become really popular recreation activities, especially in bays and coves where people are protected,” he said.
The Omaha District manages more than one million acres of water surface areas, and Corps wide, the agency managing manages more than 400 lake and river projects in 43 states. With hosting more than 260 million visitors per year, public safety is a mission and priority.
In the spring of 2016, USACE developed the “Life Jackets Worn ... Nobody Mourns” and “Please Wear It” campaigns in cooperation with the Corps of Engineers Natural Resources Education Foundation under a grant from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, administered by the U.S. Coast Guard.
When the program launched, according to USACE Headquarters, “In the last 10 years, 88 percent of all USACE public water-related fatalities were men and 68 percent were between the ages of 20 and 60, according to data compiled by the USACE National Operations Center for Water Safety. The center also reports that 84 percent of all public water-related fatalities involved people not wearing life jackets and found that the greatest number of water-related fatalities involved people swimming in areas that are not designated for swimming. Also, 27 percent of boating fatalities involved people falling overboard.”
USACE also reports that nearly all the drowning victims were adult males between the ages of 18 and 85 and were not wearing a life jacket at the time of the drowning.
Misjudging swimming ability, intoxication, and thinking nothing will happen are just a few of the reasons why these accidents happen.
Montreuil said, “With these awesome lakes that we have, it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure that everyone comes home safe another day. Wear your life jacket, and be safe and enjoy the water.”
Management of public lands during the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional challenges for USACE to provide solutions for the health and safety of its workforce and guests on public lands. Prior to the height of recreations months, May through September, the organization conducted an orderly shutdown of all USACE-managed campgrounds to protect against the further spread of coronavirus disease. In the middle of the July the District began the reintegration process. With the opening of some public lands.
“We continue to monitor the disease. We are encouraging people to frequently wash your hands, bring hand sanitizer with you,” Montreuil said “It’s always a good idea to wear a mask. It’s real important to recreate with just people that you live with as another CDC recommendation. It takes a couple of seconds to get in the new habit of recreating safely and recreating responsibly.”
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