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Holiday weekend may be soaked

Rick Williams and his family weren't about to let the threat of rain ruin their camping trip over the Fourth of July holiday, a time that normally brings thousands of Texans to state parks.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Rick Williams and his family weren't about to let the threat of rain ruin their camping trip over the Fourth of July holiday, a time that normally brings thousands of Texans to state parks.

But when they arrived at Cedar Hill State Park southwest of Dallas, they were surprised to find that not everyone shared their enthusiasm. The usually bustling park was relatively empty over the weekend.

Weeks of heavy rains have dampened recreational activities across Texas, slowing business at parks and tourist destinations and leaving campsites and hiking trails waterlogged.

A year ago many officials were warning boaters about lakes that were too low and banning fireworks because the ground was too dry. Now some popular lakes might be closed for the Fourth because they're too full, and fireworks shows are threatened by a continuing forecast of rain.

By Sunday, water from Joe Pool Lake had crept within a few feet of Williams' tent, and inky clouds loomed overhead. The family planned to stay through July 4.

"The interesting part about it is watching your campsite shrink every day," said Williams, of DeSoto, who put down a tarp to keep mud off his feet. "If it keeps coming, we'll have to just play it by ear."

Rob McCorkle, a spokesman for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said recent torrential rain already has forced three state parks to close temporarily, some through Independence Day, one of the busiest times of the year.

"Obviously it's going to impact numbers," he said. "People don't want to go camping when it's pouring down rain."

McCorkle said the department has closed Lake Whitney State Park an hour south of Fort Worth and Mother Neff State Park in Central Texas, where South Llano River State Park reopened Monday after being closed for several days. Some reservations at Lake Brownwood State Park in West Texas had to be canceled, and some of the campsites were flooded, he said.

"If this kind of rain continues and keeps these parks shut down, it will definitely have an impact of the revenue flow for the state park system," McCorkle said, while noting that it was too early for a precise estimate of the financial effects on a such a large parks system.

After storms made June one of the wettest months on record in Texas, rain didn't appear to be letting go in July. Flash flood watches covered 46 North Texas counties through Wednesday and 13 West Texas counties and 26 Central Texas counties through Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Dan Shoemaker, a meteorologist for the weather service in Fort Worth, said 11.1 inches of rain fell at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in June. That's just shy of the record 11.58 inches that fell in June 1928.

Austin was drenched with 7.49 inches at Bergstrom International Airport, more than double the normal rainfall expected in June, said Dennis Cook, a forecaster for the weather service in New Braunfels. One of the worst hit cities in the area was Marble Falls, where about 18 inches of rain fell overnight June 26 and 27.

The constant barrage of storms has disrupted activity on and off the water.

Several lakes from the Dallas area to Central Texas were closed to boating and swimming because of high water levels and floating debris.

By Monday, the Lower Colorado River Authority had closed Lake Travis, Inks Lake, Lake Marble Falls and Lake LBJ after rain soaked the area last week. Lake Buchanan remains open but the agency is urging people to be cautious of debris.

"We've got tree stumps and a variety of logs and wood and other materials that have been washed from the shore into the lake," LCRA spokesman Bill McCann said.

But for swimmers who need to get their fix, water parks are always an option — and they need the business.

Jeffrey Siebert, a spokesman for Schlitterbahn Waterpark in New Braunfels, said attendance has taken a hit and even a threat of showers is enough to keep customers away.

"We've been very disappointed with the beginning of our season," he said. "No rain this week would be ideal. No rain and no prediction of rain would be great."

Tourism officials and outdoors lovers alike may be out of luck.

Forecasters said rain was expected to continue in parts of the state for at least the next 10 days.

"I think the Fourth of July is going to be problematic for a lot of people," Shoemaker said. "I think a lot of people will be changing their plans from outdoor to indoor."