Popular ETX lake could reopen by summer

HOUSTON COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Hurricane Ike, an April tornado, and the worst drought in Texas history all have one thing in common - Ratcliff Park.

The recreation area has been through some harsh weather conditions during the last four years and now it is trying to make a comeback.  "It's killed approximately 300 to 400 trees that need to be removed," said Gerald Lawrence, District Ranger, Davy Crockett National Forest.

Following a tornado last April, the area was set to re-open this January, but the lasting effects of the drought has made it unsafe.  "If a wind storm came through and these dead and dying trees could be easily knocked over by the wind and hurt somebody. Those limbs are just more prone to fall without notice," said Lawrence.

The recovery project has been going on for months and it looks like even more obstacles may stand in the way of the park re-opening before summer.

The popular spot offers places for swimming, camping and hiking, which are ideal for the Spring and Summer seasons.  "It's one of the treasures of East Texas.  It's hard for people not to have this place available," said Ernie Murray, Public Affairs Specialist, U.S. Forest Service.

Forest experts now say addressing hazardous trees is the last hurdle to re-open Ratcliff Lake.

They say the drought gave the land little time to recover from the tornado.  They note living trees are scare among the once heavily wooded area.  The surroundings have changed and now offer a wide landscape view of the lake.  "People who have come out here in the past are going to be surprised by how open it is because a lot of the pine trees are now gone," said Murray.

Forest officials are working to contract a company to remove trees and have the area open for business by June.  "It's really dependent on how quickly implementation will be carried out," noted Lawrence.

While the park has been closed, a new beach has been added along with new handicap accessible picnic tables.

"It's going to be better than ever.  It's going to be a little more open.  This is going to be a different experience for folks who come out here," said Murray.

Park officials promise the improved version of Ratcliff Park will be worth the wait.

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