Regulating the River Raises Questions

NRD officials say they’re hopeful that public access spots along the Elkhorn River will be reopened by this weekend. While public access has been restricted, many have used private entry points to get into the water.

It doesn't happen often but during the flooding in 2011 the Missouri River was actually closed. The Coast Guard monitored things and some tickets were issued.

One of the key differences between the Missouri and Elkhorn, aside from depth and power, is access. There aren't many places to get into the Missouri but the Elkhorn has hundreds of private and public access points up and down the river that are very difficult to monitor and control.

While the NRD public access spots along the Elkhorn remain closed, next door on Maple Street the RiverWest Park campground is wide open.

"It's a very calm, peaceful experience," one person told us.

In fact our cameras were there Tuesday as several youngsters glided down the Elkhorn with refreshments in hand; plastic bags protecting cell phones.

Bill Novak, with RiverWest Park, said, "Several years ago the Niobrara seemed to be the floating river but more-and-more, people are doing the Elkhorn experience."

And Waterloo, Nebraska, isn't a five-hour drive.

The NRD tells WOWT 6 News it's been thinking out loud recently about what it would take to be able to close the Elkhorn River when it gets dangerous. We’re told it's not even clear if it would be feasible since there are so many private entrances along the route and there's also the question of who would patrol it.

Some of the talk was magnified over the weekend when rescue crews pulled two tubers from the river. The NRD’s recommendation was to stay off the river but for many people it's a matter of entering at your own risk.

The Elkhorn was treacherous a week ago but the water has receded to the point where people who use the river regularly say it's perfect to get into again.

Novak said, "There was stuff floating down the river that looked like barges. There were huge trees with the roots and everything. It came down so much, it's at a beautiful level now."

Business owners hope the level stays this way all summer.

As for regulating river use, the NRD is up against another sticking point. If you own property next to the Elkhorn, your property extends halfway into the river. Even if the river was closed, that likely wouldn't impact you on your property.

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