As people plan Memorial Day weekend sprees on the Illinois River and area lakes, recent heavy rains and COVID-19 restrictions limit what's available.

Flooding has closed some sites on Fort Gibson Lake, said lead Lake Ranger Jim Montgomery with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Blue Bill, Wildwood and Flat Rock landings are closed because of flooding, Montgomery said. The Taylor Ferry North swimming beach also is closed.

"We're posting the 6-foot social distance recommendations in all our parks," he said. "We're discouraging any kind of large groups. Our attendants will be trying to maintain distance, if they need to deal with anybody."

Sequoyah and Sequoyah Bay state parks Manager Tony Presley said parks are discouraging groups larger than 10 people out of concern for COVID-19. Picnic table group pavilions will be closed to ensure social distancing.

"We're doing what we think is comfortable, what we can safely take care of on a park level to keep our facilities clean and keep things sanitized," Presley said. "We're doing a slow reopen. So, whatever we get comfortable with at a park level, we can start opening things back up." 

At Sequoyah Bay, tent camping is closed because lift stations and bathrooms are not working, Presley said.

"They are under review right now to be fixed," he said. "I only have one open, and I can't overload it with tent campers and RVs."

RV camping and the marina remain open.

The park's swimming beach is covered with 13 feet of water, Presley said.

"It's really not a beach right now," he said. 

At Sequoyah State Park, the Lodge is closed for remodeling. The Lodge is to reopen in early June with a new restaurant, he said.

The swimming area at Choctaw campsite is flooded.

Tent camping is open at limited sites that aren't affected by flooding. RV camping, the marina, cabins and horseback riding stables are open, Presley said.

On Lake Eufaula, all U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds are open, but swimming beaches, group shelters and playgrounds are closed due to COVID-19 concerns, according to lake manager Gerald Treadwell. 

"You can swim anywhere in the lake you want to, just our designated beaches are closed," he said. 

At Lake Eufaula State Park, all areas but the playground are open, according to park manager Rocky Murdaugh. The playground is roped off.

Lake Greenleaf has no flooding problems, said Nikki Dubbs, owner of GreenLeaf Marina and Grill. She said the indoor fishing dock is closed, but people may fish outside for free.

Floating conditions could be good on the Illinois River, as long as floaters wear life jackets and watch for debris, said Justin Alberty, Grand River Dam Authority vice president of corporate communications.

Signs to encourage social distancing and limiting group size to 10 or fewer been put up at the public access areas, Alberty said. All public access areas are open except for the Todd Access Area, which has flood damage, he said.

Lake and river levels, as of 11 a.m. Thursday:

• Fort Gibson Lake: 9.41 feet above normal.

• Lake Eufaula: 3.08 feet above normal.

• Lake Tenkiller: 4.36 feet above normal.

• Illinois River, Tahlequah gauge: 6.7 feet deep.

The Grand River Dam Authority offers these tips for floating the Illinois River: 

• Always wear a life jacket.

• Any first time or novice floaters should also pair with an experienced paddler/floater in a raft where there is a lesser chance of capsizing.

• Never swim or boat alone. Stay within sight of companions.

• Camp only in designated areas.

• Do not dive into the river from bridges, bluffs, stream banks and trees.

• Never take anything on the float trip that you don't want to lose. Check car keys in with the commercial float operator for safe keeping.

• Due to recent high waters, be mindful that the river may contain some debris that presents navigational hazards.

• Do not float or swim when river levels and flows are higher than normal (brown-colored water w/visible debris on the surface) or at flood stage.

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