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Corps to reconsider access in popular areas around Lake Sakakawea

County Commissioner Barry Ramberg, second from left talks with Danny Leep, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Little Egypt, while Andy Anderson, owner of Scenic Sports looks on.

WILLISTON, N.D.—All of the sites area fishermen showed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday, May 23, made the short list of places the federal agency will reconsider for expanded or improved fishing access.

Wade Spooner, deputy operations project manager for Garrison Project, and two of his Corps associates, Alfred (Skip) Stonesifer and Danny Leep, toured several points along Lake Sakakawea in the Williston area that had been popular fishing spots until fences and gates appeared, blocking access to the lake. Andy Anderson, of Scenic Sports, helped arrange the tour along with a couple of other area anglers.

Spooner, speaking after the tour, said it looked like most of the areas could either be reopened or improved with better signage indicating that the areas still are open to foot traffic.

"We may have to still fence some areas to keep ATVs out of there, and that is the actual problem out there," he said. "It's not about trying to keep fishermen out, it's trying to control the ATVs."

Some of the areas reviewed, however, could require some funding to ensure they are safe and useful accesses, Spooner said. And some areas might require a camp host, such as Little Egypt Camp, to volunteer to keep a daily watch on a particular access point. Their tasks could include picking up trash, shutting gates after dark, collecting any fees for campground use and so on.

Short Creek, adjacent to Long Creek, was among the places the group visited. Three relatively new gates blocked the way into the site, but after walking around the area, Spooner indicated the location seemed ideal for public access to the lake. There is a large flat area of land owned by the Corps that could be used for parking, and the shore is a relatively short distance away. The location is right off of a paved road, too, which makes it easy to get to.

In fact, the anglers told Spooner, the area had once been a popular destination for fishing or a day at the beach. But as fences and gates appeared, people stopped coming.

Spooner said the Corps wants the public to have access to the lake, but there are a number of issues that the agency must also consider. Among these is the Endangered Species Act.

Some areas along Lake Sakakawea are considered critical habitat for the piping plover, which is listed as a threatened species in the northern Great Plains and endangered in the Great Lakes area. It is a migratory species with breeding grounds in the northern Great Plains and Great Lakes. They tend to nest above the high water mark in soft sandy areas with sparse vegetation.

Areas that are considered critical habitat for the birds are designated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and are detailed in the master plan for the lake. The master plan is reviewed periodically and revised as needed, Stonesifer said. However, it is a costly process, he added, and in general, the plan is not usually changed much.

Other issues the Corps must consider include safety factors, such as snow removal for access points that will be open for ice fishing.

There are also 2,800 known cultural sites around the lake at various places. These range from things like arrowheads to camping areas or fire rings. All of the potential fishing access points will have to be reviewed with those parameters in mind before a decision can be made, Spooner said.