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Zoo, park open again
June 03, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

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Thanks to some quick thinking by the City of Scottsbluff and a thumbs-up from the Army Corps of Engineers, water levels are returning to somewhat normal in Riverside Park and the Riverside Discovery Center (RDC).

According to RDC Director Anne James, high river levels were something they could handle. But fast rising groundwater over the weekend forced the zoo to close May 22. The zoo’s three ponds became one and water overflowed the surrounding roads.

Adding to the problem was storm water drainage from Scottsbluff’s Westmoor area, which also flowed into the Riverside Park area.

Over the next two days, the city consulted with the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency and the Corp of Engineers and developed a plan.

Most of the water was coming into Riverside Park from a 48-inch drainage culvert on the west side. City crews closed off the pipe and dug a trench to reroute the water back to the river. They also opened up two smaller culverts on the east side to allow the accumulated water to drain.

The project was a success, as most of the water had drained from Riverside Park by May 31.

“When the river breached, it went into a swamp area then out through the culvert into the zoo,” James said. “The city put a pump into our slough and drained out about three feet of water. It made a difference immediately.”

Riverside Discovery Center reopened on Wednesday, a much shorter closure than in 2011, when the area also flooded. “We were closed for nearly 2½ months in 2011,” James said. “This year was about 10 days, but it was over our busiest weekend of the summer.”

The splash pad, a popular attraction at the zoo, is still in need of some repairs from the flood. It’s expected to reopen in about a week. She said the zoo sustained some unexpected expenses due to the flood and is taking donations to help with their operation.

Tim Newman, Emergency Management Director for Region 22, said much of the problem has cleared up. However, there are still some low lying areas that are still covered with water.

As for the high river levels, Newman said they should stay about the same for awhile. Outflows from reservoirs to the west are down and should stay that way until the irrigation season is at its peak.

“Most of Riverside Park has reopened, but the road that goes around the east side of the park is still closed,” said Perry Mader, Director of the Scottsbluff Parks and Recreation Department. “That affects the dog park. We’re hoping to have the area open again next week.”

The Monument Valley Pathway along the river from the YMCA to Riverside Park remains closed, as many sections are underwater due the high river levels.

“Once the water goes down on the pathway, we still have to inspect the river bank and the pathway itself,” Mader said. “We also need to look at the trees, because they can become unstable after flooding.”

There are still some standing water in Riverside Park and the public is asked to stay clear of those areas and the river banks.

“The campground was mostly full when we had to close,” Mader said. “We’ve also lost some campers who went elsewhere, which is understandable during the busy Memorial Day weekend. But we’ll be back to normal in the next week or two.”

If you have questions or concerns, contact the Scottsbluff Parks and Recreation Department at 308-632-0057.
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