OVERTON, Nevada (STPNS) -- by Vernon Robison


The National Park Service (NPS) announced last week that Overton Beach marina facilities will be relocated and all land-based services closed by March 31, 2007. All contracted services provided by concessioner, Overton Beach Marina, LLC will be discontinued due to lowering water levels on Lake Mead, according to an official park service statement. Marina facilities at Overton Beach will be moved to other locations on the lake.

With nearly seven years of drought conditions on the Colorado River system and Lake Mead water levels at near historic lows; officials at the NPS have, for some time, been considering alternative options for the Overton Beach facility.

The current elevation of Lake Mead is around 1,126 feet. That level is down nearly 75 feet since the same month in the year 2000.   According to the park service, the marina would need to be moved to deeper water if the lake fell below the 1,124 feet level. This level is projected to be reached shortly after March of 2007. In fact, the Bureau of Reclamation is projecting lake levels as low as 1,114 feet by September of this year.

Originally the NPS had been working on an arrangement to bundle the current concession contracts at Overton Beach and Echo Bay so that existing slips could be relocated to the deeper waters of the Echo Bay area. However, negotiations between the parties were not successful and the Overton Beach Marina, Inc. contract expired on December 31.

Forever Resorts, LLC, the current concessioner at Callville Bay and Temple Bar has expressed an interest in adding the 185 slips from Overton Beach to its existing marinas. But the slip renters are also free to work with other concessioners on the Lake to relocate to other sites in the recreation area where space is available.

?People certainly have the option to relocate wherever they want to go,? said Roxanne Dey, Public Affairs Officer for the NPS at its Boulder City office. ?They can work with any of the other concessioners on the Lake to find a spot they like; including Echo Bay if they wish.?

In addition to the marina facility, it was determined that all Overton Beach land based services including the RV Park, store, gas station, dry boat storage area, concession housing and maintenance facilities would also be discontinued as of March 31.

?Overton Beach has some of the largest boat slips on the Lake,? said Dey. ?Those slips are the economic backbone of the facility. Without them it just doesn?t make sense to keep the other businesses open.?

Perhaps those hardest hit by the closure will be the 33 renters of long-term trailer village mobile home spots. The renters, some of whom have lived there for twenty years, were informed a few days before the holidays that they would be required to move all personal property out of the park by March 31. This included trailers, storage sheds and any accessory structures.

?This has caught all of us by surprise,? said Judy Metz, a long-time occupant of the trailer village who is also a local business owner and member of the Moapa Valley Town Advisory Board. ?We heard about it just a couple of days before the Christmas holiday. No one really knows what is going to happen with it. There are a lot of unanswered questions and everyone is very sad about it.?

Many of the trailer village occupants have made significant investments improving their site over the years. Russ Gant, who has held a spot in the park for the past six years, said that he has invested over $60,000 on improvements.

?There are people who have been there longer than me who have put a lot more into their spots,? Gant said.  

But park service officials point out that, from a legal standpoint, there is no such thing as a permanent resident in the recreation area. The occupants do not own their spots. Rather they sign a month to month agreement with the park service to rent the spots at an average cost of around $350 per month plus utilities.

Dey explained that in the early days of the trailer park, occupants would park their vehicles in the trailer spots during their vacation. Then, because of the difficulty of moving the vehicles, they were allowed to leave them there until they came back the next summer.

?Because of that, over the years it has become a quasi mobile home park,? Dey said. ?But it was never meant to be that way. No one should be living full-time in a national park.?

With the removal of the marina and the closing of all of the other land-based service, it would make little sense to keep the trailer park, Dey said.

But Gant questions the assumption that the land-based services at Overton Beach, such as the trailer park, would not succeed without the marina.

?I remember a time in the early 1970s when there was no marina to speak of,? Gant said. ?There was the trailer park, a campground and a few buoys in the water to tie boats to. If those things were there before without the marina, I don?t know why they couldn?t keep them now.?

While Gant recognized that the land-based businesses would not be the huge revenue generators that the marina was, he claims that they could still be viable businesses during the time of low water levels.

?If this is really about low water levels and if the park service is going to allow developed facilities back in when the water comes back up, why should we have to pay to move our vehicles away from the site and then, sometime in the future, pay again to move them back,? Gant said. ?I?d just like to find a solution where we can stay.?

Though the marina and surrounding services will be moved, the park service plans to keep the infrastructure in place so that the services can be brought back, if possible, in the future.

?When the lake levels come up and are sustained over a period of time, then the park service would certainly consider putting a developed area there again,? said Roxanne Dey.  

In the meantime, the park service plans to keep the boat ramp at Overton Beach open for smaller craft, assuming water levels allow it.

?We plan to keep the ramp open for as long as we can,? Dey said.

Current projections would indicate that the ramp should stay functioning throughout the next year. Though expected low levels during the summer may require a restriction to shallow water craft only, Dey said.

?We should be okay with the boat ramp through 2007,? Dey said. ?Then we will have to keep looking at the projections to see what needs to be done from there.?

While not placed at the extreme  point of losing their vacation homes, local business owners are also concerned about the impact that the closure of services at Overton Beach may have on local commerce.

?This will have an affect on every facet of this community,? said Dan Hopkins, owner of Overton Ace Hardware.

Hopkins points out that many local businesses rely on boaters at Overton Beach to boost sales during the slow summer months. ?The closure will make the long summers even longer for local business,? he said.

Hopkins also points out that the community could see less of a snowbird population during the winter months because many of the seniors come to the area for the fishing and the easy access to the lake. ?I think we?ll find that a lot of those folks won?t come down here anymore,? Hopkins said.

Kent Slight, owner of Red Rooster tavern and Robinson?s Trailer Park in Overton agreed.

?This will put the brakes on everything in town,? he said. ?For a lot of people, the reason they are here is because of the lake. Once there is no draw for them, those people will go elsewhere. Business in this town will wither away.?

But Russ Babb, owner of Best Western North Shore Inn had a more moderate outlook. Relatively few of his customers have slip renters at the marina. Most come from Southern Utah and California bringing smaller craft which will, most likely, still be able to launch at the Overton Beach ramp. If not they can go a little farther to Echo Bay.

?I think people will still come down through here to get to the Lake,? Babb said. ?But there will definitely be an affect on business, no doubt about that. It won?t cause us to go out of business or anything. But I might have to wait awhile before buying that new truck.?

Some Moapa Valley residents see, in the Overton Beach closure, a pattern of federal agencies closing off access to public lands to the public.

?I?ve seen a clear pattern of closing roads down and limiting access to the Lake,? said Dan Hopkins. ?I think this is just another case of the park service limiting public access to everything that is not the Boulder Basin area.?

But Roxanne Dey of the park service strongly disagrees with this view.  She said that the idea of the park service using low water levels as an excuse to close access to Overton Beach is simply not true.

?Why would we want to close it down?? she asked. ?The park service has put millions of dollars into infrastructure at the Overton Beach facility. We have provided services for water, waste water, power and more. We have not wanted to close it at all. Why would we do that??