Overcrowding has prompted city officials to restrict access to three parks that border Lake Waxahachie.
Boat Dock, Jetty, and Spring Parks will only be open to residents June 30, July 1, July 4, and July 7-8.
John Smith, Director of Parks and Recreation, stated the parks are designed to accommodate a few hundred people at a time, but they have seen thousands of visitors from across the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex over the past five years.
“We have small parks, narrow streets, and narrow entry points for some of these parks. Overcrowding is a serious issue,” Smith said. “When you have so many people, swimmers, picnickers, and boaters vying for the same area it creates a dangerous situation.”
Smith explained the demand to use the lake poses safety concerns for residents and first responders. Visitors have been seen parking along Howard Road and Lake Shore Drive and in the adjoining neighborhoods, which limits access to the area.
“In one of our parks there is designed parking, but we are only talking about 50 or so cars to accommodate a couple of hundred people comfortably,” Smith stated. “When you get several thousand people out there the park swells beyond its capacity. It is just an unmanageable situation.”
Smith noted the large crowds have left a considerable amount of trash to be picked up and a lot of maintenance to be done at the restroom building.
By restricting access, the city hopes it will reduce the overflow of parking and restore the parks to a manageable number of guests. To achieve this, city staff will install temporary fencing at several locations. Electronic message boards will be placed along Howard Road to notify people of the temporary restriction.
When visitors arrive at the park, city staff will be on site to check proof of residence, keep the area clean and provide assistance to visitors. Proof of residence includes items such as a driver's license and utility bill.
“We are going to check the person that is driving. We know that people are going to have guests that are invited from out of town,” Smith said. “We will find a reasonable way to accept those that should be there.”
Smith advises residents to arrive early and consider carpooling to the parks.
According to documents filed by the city, the estimated costs of these efforts is $16,700 for overtime pay, barricades, fencing, and message board rentals. Following the trial period, the restrictions will be reviewed. After the review, the city council will consider a long-term plan.
Wade Goolsby, Waxahachie Police Chief, stated officers would be onsite to help so it will be a problem free time for everyone.
“We are hoping that we have a peaceful July 4 weekend and holiday. We want to urge people to be safe. That is our goal,” Goolsby said. “We want people to have a good time while they are out at the lake, but we have had some issues with overcrowding that the city is trying to do something to help elevate that.”
Goolsby stated enforcement steps such as writing tickets or towing vehicles will only be taken if necessary.
Alcohol cannot be brought into parks. People who are operating a boat while drinking could face the charge of boating while intoxicated. Under Texas law, a person may be jailed up to 180 days, fined as much as $2,000 or both for operating a boat under the influence. They also may have their driver’s license suspended as well.
Goolsby noted fireworks are not allowed in the parks either. Possessing or using fireworks within city limits is prohibited.
David Bailey, Director of Utilities, stated he feels Lake Waxahachie is in good shape going into the summer season.
The overflow level at the lake is 531 feet. The United States Geological Survey reports the lake’s current level is at 530.21 feet. Texas Lake Levels states Lake Waxahachie is 92.5 percent full.
The only watering restriction placed on residents is the use of automated watering systems on properties till Sept. 30.
“We are optimistic going into the summer months, but we would still like customers to use water wisely,” Bailey said. “We don’t anticipate any additional restrictions at this point, but that depends on the weather.”
Bailey advises residents to exercise caution while they are out swimming or using watercraft at the lake.
Jeff Powell, Texas Game Warden, advises boaters to do a thorough inspection for Zebra Mussels before and after their boat comes out of the water.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife website notes Zebra Mussels are an invasive species which arrived in North America from Eurasia in the 1980s. They first appeared in the Great Lakes in Michigan.
“They are transported because people don’t clean their boat or trailer properly,” Powell said. “A lot of times these boats are housed in a marina on the water for long periods of time. That is when the Zebra Mussels attached to it.”
Powell explained the crustacean ranges in size from a quarter of an inch to one inch and has distinctive black stripes.
The first infestation was found in Texas in 2009 at Lake Texoma. Since then, 14 Texas lakes are invested with this invasive species. These lakes include Austin, Belton, Bridgeport, Canyon, Deal Gilbert, Eagle Mountain, Georgetown, Lewisville, Livingston, Randell, Ray Roberts, Stillhouse Hollow, Texoma, and Travis.
Powell stated none of the lakes in Ellis County is affected by this problem. Zebra Mussels cause damage to water systems annually by attaching themselves to hard surfaces.
To prevent the spread of these creatures boaters are advised to drain all water from the boat including live wells, ballast, bilges, and engine cooling water before leaving the lake.
Boaters then need to remove all plants, animals, and mud by thoroughly washing the boat and trailer.
Powell advises using a pressure washer and soap at a car wash for cleaning. Once washed the boat needs to dry completely before launching it into another body of water.
If these steps are not taken people can face a Class C misdemeanor, which is a fine that ranges from $25-$500 if they knowingly transport these mussels.