The water began receding early last week on Lake Arbutus, which reached its low spot last Friday as Midwest Hydraulic Company, LLC will work to fix the dam over the next year, a move that is expected to have major effects on revenues for Jackson County Parks.
“We started out over there in the corner and it just kept going down, so we had to keep moving our camper so we could see water,” Brenda Tobey of Wisconsin Dells said. She and her husband spent last week at Lake Arbutus and saw the lake recede during their stay, making 300 foot sandbars in front of their initial site.
Midwest Hydraulic Company, LLC will be reducing the water level by more than five feet to prevent additional scouring below the project spillways during high flow events, which could lead to structure failure.
“Based on historical data that we have, we are looking at a 30 percent decrease from our anticipated revenue,” Jackson County Forestry and Parks assistant administrator Jon Schweitzer said. “This will be the third drawdown that I’ve been through since I’ve been here and they are never a good thing, but I think we have learned a lot of lessons from the previous two.”
To help reduce the losses, Jackson County Forestry and Parks will be dropping the cost for their lakefront rental properties at East Arbutus Campground from $25 to $22, which would make the lots the same price as a lot without a lakefront.
East Arbutus Campground will be the most affected campground, which is why it is the only campground with any fee changes.
“From site four to site 72, there is going to be up to a 300 foot sandbar in front of their site. There is going to be water in there. There are going to be cattails. It is not going to be very usable for much of anything,” Schweitzer said.
John Chrest, a board member and avid Lake Arbutus camper, was in agreement with the cost reductions for the East Arbutus campers.
“You are essentially camping on lakefront and so it seems very fair to me that is what you are charged,” Chrest said.
On the significantly smaller West Arbutus Campground, Schweitzer feels like campers will actually be pleased with their sites next year and so will not reduce the prices on those lots.
“West Arbutus is going to be the least impacted facility on the lake. In fact, folks at West Arbutus are probably going to be happier because they are going to have beach in front of their campsites and a nice spot to park their boats,” Schweitzer said.
West Arbutus will also be home to the only public boat launch that will be usable next year.
“The boat launch at West Arbutus is going to be usable, which is really going to create some issues with congestion at West Arbutus. It is actually going to be the only boat launch that is going to be usable on the entire lake,” Schweitzer said.
Jackson County Parks staff said that Russell’s ramp may be usable, but will be very steep and Riviera made improvements so it may be usable as well.
Once the lake returns back to its normal water levels in the expected spring 2019, the reduced rates will be removed.
“Any bookings that happened after the lake has returned, then the fees would go back to regular. If you took a gamble and booked with us thinking the lake might be up or not up, then you are going to stay at that $22,” parks manager Jeremy Breheim said.
For long-term campers, Schweitzer said that the rules for those vacating sites will remain the same.
“You can take a year off with getting your first preference to be the site the following year, but there is just no guarantee that you get that same site. If you take a year off, you are potentially forfeiting your campsite that you have had for several years,” Schweitzer said.
As far as Schweitzer knows, the Clark County campgrounds are not offering any discounts for their campers next year in response to the drawdown.
The Tobey’s do not plan on coming back next year because of the drawdown, but they understand why it needs to happen.
“It is a little bit of a bummer, but at the end of the day they have to service the dam. The dam is what keeps the lake up,” John Tobey said.
Other fee changes approved during the meeting included increasing the day-use fees from $3 to $5 and adding a separate motorcycle fee for $3.
“What we are getting is what we call clown cars. They will bring in a mini-van full of 15 people and they will go to the beach for $3. We just thought that going to a $5 daily charge and then raising our annual to $30 was more than fair,” Schweitzer said. The day-use fee had not increased since 2006 when it went from $2 to $3.