When Table Rock Dam was completed in 1959 it formed Table Rock Lake, with its 43,100 surface acres and 745 mile shoreline of aquatic fun, adventure and scenic beauty. Along with Silver Dollar City and Branson’s live shows,it is one of the lynchpins that helps make Branson such a wonderful unique travel destination.
Table Rock Lake is owned, managed and controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, (Corps). The Corps is directly involved in all aspects of the lakes use, both by daily visitors and the many commercial operations on the lake that enhances its recreational value. Recently, the Branson Tourism Center (BTC) had the opportunity to interview Mr. James Sandberg (JS), the Operations Project Manager responsible for all of the Corps operations at Table Rock Lake. His responses and insights are presented below in a “Q and A” format.
BTC: What is your position with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and what does it entail?
JS: Operations Project Manager. I am responsible for all of the operations here at Table Rock Lake including natural resource management, recreation, flood damage reduction, hydro power operations and serve as the liaison between the public and our District office in Little Rock.
BTC: How long have you been at Table Rock Lake?
JS: I started as a Park Ranger in 1989 left for another assignment in 2002 and have had my current position since December of 2006.
BTC: What were the three main reasons Table Rock Dam was built?
JS: First and foremost, flood damage reduction, then hydropower and water supply.
BTC: Water supply?
JS: The allocation for water was for the fish hatchery [Shepherd of the Hills Trout Hatchery] just below the dam. Right now there is no allocation for residential/domestic use.
BTC: Where does recreation and fishing come in under that hierarchy?
JS: Recreation is one of the Corps missions, but it was not one of the authorized purposes of the project. Recreation is an authorized mission, as well as natural resources, but we do not make any changes on the management of the Water Control Plan based on recreation or natural resource management.
BTC: Why do the “normal,” levels of Table Rock Lake fluctuate from 915 feet to 917 feet at different times of the year?
JS: We maintain a “normal conservation level” of 915 above MSL between December 1 and May 31 when it is increased to a “seasonal conservation level” of 917 above MSL until November 30. The increased level is authorized by the Water Control Plan so that we can make the minimum releases during that period required to maintain oxygen levels and water temperature downstream for the trout fishery.
BTC: Does the Corps manage tourism related activities on Table Rock Lake?
JS: Yes, we have 12 recreation areas that we run and 15 commercial marinas that we manage for the benefit and enjoyment of the public. In addition, we have more than 100 “Limited-Motel Resort” leases we manage that support recreational activities and tourism on Table Rock Lake.
BTC: So if there is a resort, marina or other business operation on Table Rock Lake it is operated in co-operation with the Corps?
JS: Correct. Table Rock Lake is a federally owned project and owns the vast majority of the lakes shoreline. As a general rule any commercial business on Table Rock Lake operates through a lease or other agreement with the Corps.
BTC: What are the primary Corps facilities or managed areas that Branson visitors are most likely to come in contact with?
JS: Table Rock State Park and the State Park Marina, the Dewey Short Visitors Center at Table Rock Dam, the recreation areas [which include camp grounds and boat launching ramps] at Indian Point, Cricket Creek Old Highway 86, as well as Mill Creek and Aunts Creek and of course “Moon Shine Beach” located on the north end of Table Rock Dam which is one of our most popular areas.
BTC: What is the impact of Table Rock Lake on tourism in the Branson area?
JS: I think it is a big part of the recreation and tourism in the Branson area. I have been given some number that recreation in Stone and Taney Counties is a two to three billion dollar industry of which Table Rock Lake is directly responsible for about 25% of that. It is estimated that visitors to just the Corps operated recreation areas spend about $60 million per year in the local economy and that’s not counting the other areas on Table Rock Lake such as Big Cedar, Chateau on the Lake, Table Rock State Park and Marina and the other commercial marinas, resorts etc. operating in cooperation with the Corps.
BTC: In closing, what one thought would you like to leave with our readers?
JS: The Corps wants to make sure that we maintain the resources that we have at Table Rock Lake so locals, visitors and their families can enjoy them now and that future generations will also be able to enjoy this precious resource. We want to be proactive in protecting the lake to make sure that it stays the lake that we all enjoy today.