The water at Hyatt and Howard Prairie lakes has receded below the boat ramps, leaving boaters to find alternate, and often muddy, banks to launch their boats and enjoy what water remains.
All four boat ramps at Howard Prairie and the three at Hyatt Lake are closed. At Emigrant Lake, one of the two boat ramps is closed.
Steve Lambert, manager of the Jackson County Parks Department, said people with small, aluminum fishing boats, canoes or kayaks have identified a rocky shoal accessible through campsite No. 11 at Willow Point Park on Howard Prairie where they can launch their crafts.
“It’s definitely a user-beware, use-at-your-own-risk type of boat ramp,” Lambert said. “Other areas are too muddy for folks to back into and either not deep enough or too shallow to get boats on and off trailers.”
Travis Reeder, who does maintenance work around Hyatt Lake, said boaters — but mostly kayakers — have found a bank near the Hyatt Dam where they can lower boats into the water.
“But I only see maybe two boats a day, max,” he said.
The water is so low this year that those with bigger boats are heading to deeper lakes, including Lost Creek, Applegate and Willow lakes, Lambert said.
The elevation of Howard Prairie Lake is currently 4,501.6 feet, whereas full-pool is 4,527 feet.
“The last time the water was this level was in 2002,” Lambert said. “It seems like it’s on a 10-year cycle. It also hit a low in 1991 and 1992.”
As of Friday afternoon, Howard Prairie was 36 percent full, Emigrant Lake was 29 percent full, Hyatt Lake was 15 percent full, Fish Lake was 22 percent full, Fourmile Lake was 10 percent full and Willow Lake was 77 percent full.
As of Tuesday, Applegate Lake was 52 percent full and Lost Creek Lake was 61 percent full, and all boat ramps at both lakes were accessible.
In a Facebook post Friday, Jackson County Sheriff’s Marine Division warned boaters that the shallow water has created “navigational hazards” that are difficult to mark due to daily changes in the water level.
“Say we mark a rock that’s two inches under the water,” said marine Deputy Jason Denton. “The next day, it could be sticking out of the water 14 inches.”
“We can’t constantly go around and move markings so there are low-water warnings at all boat ramps,” Denton said.
In addition to wearing life jackets, Denton said, boaters should make it a priority to have a depth finder on board and keep a sharp eye out for rocks, stumps and mud bars.
Reach reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.