Cowans Gap to be closed for repairs in 2002

April 07, 2001

Cowans Gap to be closed for repairs in 2002

By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

Cowans Gap State Park was built in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression. So it's time, say park officials, for a much needed $4.4 million renovation project that will close the 1,085-acre facility for the 2002 season.

Steve Behe, the park's resident manager, said it will stay open throughout the 2001 season. The work will begin with the draining of a 42-acre lake at the park this fall.

The park will be closed from January 2002 to April 2003, Roger Fickes, director of the Bureau of State parks for the State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said in a news release.

Otherwise, Fickes said, it would take three years and affect operations of the park during the peak season.

"We know people will be disappointed, but they know it will be a temporary inconvenience for a permanent improvement," Behe said.


The renovation includes replacement of the dam-control tower that controls the flow of water from the lake.

Behe said the water level in the lake has been dropping in recent years because of leaks in the device that controls the flow. Several teams of divers could not get the leak sealed, he said.

"The only way to fix it is to drain the lake," Behe said.

Another major project once the lake is drained will be the removal of tons of silt that have entered the lake over the last seven decades.

"We'll truck it out and spread it out on other bureau land," he said.

Work around the lake, including the control tower and silt removal, will cost about $700,000, Fickes said.

Behe said his department and the state Fish and Game Commission will remove the bass and trout in the lake before it is drained. Some will escape downstream during the draining, and those that are pulled out will be transferred to other waters.

The park's one-half million annual visitors have access to a beach, 233 campsites, four historic pavilions, 10 cabins and 10 miles of hiking trails.

The hiking trails will stay open during the construction.

All but two of the park's 16 restrooms will be replaced or renovated and made handicapped-accessible. Fixtures will be modernized.

The park will end up with 10 larger restrooms instead of the 16 small facilities.

A new beach house with restrooms at both ends will be built. All windows and doors in the cabins will be replaced, and the handicapped fishing ramp will be renovated or moved, Behe said.

The construction and renovations will be designed to reflect a rustic look in the buildings in keeping with the park's natural beauty, Behe said.

One of the pavilions will be renovated, and more than three miles of park roadways will be repaved.

The park's 200,000-gallon water tower will be drained, cleaned, painted and refilled, Behe said. The tower is fed by two deep wells.

Cowans Gap operates with seven full-time employees and another 18 who work seasonally. None of the full-timers will be laid off during the construction.

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