Ocmulgee trail open again after holiday flooding

jgaines@macon.comDecember 26, 2013 

With many people on vacation and wanting to burn off some holiday calories, there’s a bit of good news: The Ocmulgee Heritage Trail is open again after being underwater for two days.

Macon Parks Division staff on Tuesday shut down the trail, which is often used for walking and biking. The river’s rain-fueled holiday rise covered the Spring Street boat ramp, playground and concrete paths.

The Macon-Bibb County Emergency Management Agency monitors the Ocmulgee’s level and saw a coming problem with Sunday and Monday’s rain, said Steve Lawson, grounds superintendent.

“EMA came to us and told us the river was going to crest above flood stage,” he said.

The lower lying side of the trail was closed first, but by Tuesday afternoon the whole thing had flooded, Lawson said.

Chris Floore, Macon’s public affairs director, announced the trail’s closure on the afternoon of Christmas Eve and said it would stay closed through Christmas.

At 11:19 a.m. Thursday, he announced the reopening.

At this time of year the river’s normal level is 7.5 to 8 feet, Lawson said. At 18 feet the Ocmulgee starts coming over its banks, and creeps up on the trail at 19 feet, he said.

“This time it crested out at 22.36 (feet),” Lawson said. But by Thursday afternoon the river was back down to 14.4 feet.

“We walked it this morning and got the limbs off of it,” Lawson said Thursday. “We reopened it about 9 o’clock (Thursday morning).”

After the holiday season, when more Public Works employees are back on the job, crews will clean mud off the trail itself, scrape the boat ramp and put more mulch onto the playground if necessary, he said.

Lawson said the public is advised to stay off the trail and out of the river when waters rise.

“We don’t want anybody in the river when it’s moving this fast,” he said, citing an incident from this year.

In September, four Mercer University students entered the river on two rafts at the Spring Street boat ramp. Four or five miles downstream, as it got dark, they drifted into the swamp near the city landfill and had to be rescued by firefighters and police.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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