LOVELL, Wyoming (STPNS) -- Friends of Bighorn Lake President Bob Croft was the guest speaker at the Lovell Chamber of Commerce meeting Monday, and he talked about lake level, ongoing FOBHL projects and the 2008 Big Horn Lake Celebration, schedule for this Saturday at Horseshoe Bend.

Croft talked to the chamber about Saturday?s Big Horn Lake Celebration, and said the public is welcome to come and go as they please from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The upper parking lot (near the beach) will be used for handicapped parking and the lower lot will be open for all other vehicles. Ferrell Mangus is rounding up some side-by-side vehicles for a shuttle service from the lower parking lot Saturday and said he could still use another vehicle and driver.

Free boat rides will be going on throughout the day, Croft said. There are 20 volunteers with boats that will give the rides.

Entrance fees to the park will be waived throughout the weekend (Friday through Sunday). This also means camping at the new Horseshoe Bend sites will be free of charge, but Croft expects the campground will fill quickly and advised people to arrive early Friday to reserve a spot.

Twenty of the sites are outfitted with 50-amp electrical service and water hookups, though the services are not running yet. Additional smaller sites with no hookups are also found in the campground.

Because of a federal regulation, the National Park Service isn?t permitted to raise fees at the campground until public input is gathered. Therefore, for the summer, there will be no charge for staying at the campground? just the $5 fee to enter the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. The group talked about the idea of having a donation box to help offset costs of maintenance for the NPS.

The FOBHL has been advertising a lot for the celebration this year, with ads on TV, radio and print.

Though word is spreading about the recreation opportunities in the area, Rick Lasko of the NPS said he still hears of many people who don?t know about Horseshoe Bend.

?It?s strange how many people have lived [in the area] for decades and have never been to the beach,? he said.

Suzanne Winterholler suggested working on signage on the road to make the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area more visible, and possibly altering signs to highlight the beach and other amenities there.

Croft reported that the NPS new Interim Superintendent Sande McDermott will be at Fort Smith today (Thursday) to begin her assignment, and John Keck will bring her up to date on the goings on at Big Horn Canyon. She plans to attend the lake celebration.

New maps of Big Horn Lake have been printed, Croft said. The maps cover the area from Mormon Point south to ML Ranch. Next year, the third and final map in the series will be printed, detailing from ML Ranch to the southern boundary of the Yellowtail unit. Maps are free and will be available this weekend at the lake event, Croft said. The maps are the product of a combined effort among Northwest College, NPS, the Wyoming Game and Fish Dept. and FOBHL.  

A new 150-foot boat dock will be installed at Horseshoe Bend sometime this summer, Croft said. The dock was purchased using boat gas tax funds. In addition, a ramp will be installed on the south end of Big Horn Lake for tubers and canoers to use to launch and float up to the causeway ramp. Another ramp will be installed at the 14A bridge between Cowley and Lovell.

On an unrelated note, Croft told the board about VARQ -- a new system of water management that is being considering for future use in Wyoming. Croft said VARQ would be a topic at the July 29 Big Horn River Long-Term Issues Group meeting at the Community Center in Lovell.

Chamber President Mike Jones thanked Croft for speaking to the chamber.

?We all feel fortunate that Bob and the Friends of Bighorn Lake have such a passion for the lake,? he said. ?We appreciate all they?ve done.?

Croft said the FOBHL appreciates the local support and thanked everyone who has been utilizing the lake. He also said that the FOBHL appreciates Montana fishermen and recreationists who enjoy Big Horn Lake, and pointed out that there is just a small special interest group that the FOBHL has struggled with over the years. Croft said the meetings of the Big Horn River Long Term Issues Group have made a lot of progress in opening a dialog between Wyoming and Montana interest groups.

?We?ve got to keep at it,? Croft said. ?I?m convinced the day we stop fighting for the lake, it will be north again.?

Big Horn Lake was at 3,634.5 feet as of Monday morning, Croft said, just five and a half feet from full pool. Croft reported Monday that Boysen Reservoir was 12 feet below full pool and Buffalo Bill was 20 feet below full pool, and both reservoirs have been releasing water to Big Horn Lake.

Following a weekly conference call Tuesday between the Montana Area Office  of the Bureau of Reclamation and Big Horn Lake stakeholders, Croft said the BuRec was to increase releases from Big Horn Lake at Yellowtail Dam by 1,300 cfs Tuesday night. According to a BuRec statement, releases will be set at 9,700 cfs. Croft said the increase is because outflows at both Boysen and Buffalo Bill Resorvoirs are being upped as well.

Croft said BuRec representatives expect the lake to fill by June 27.