Illinois River businesses, campers brace for severe weather on the water

Posted at 5:23 PM, May 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-27 02:21:47-04

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. -- One of the Illinois River's biggest weekends is officially underway...but thanks to flooding, it's a weekend that almost didn't happen.

Now outfitters and campers are bracing themselves for more severe weather.

“We were prepared you know...we kinda knew what we were getting into,” said Sparrow Hawk Camp owner Gene Ellis.

Despite heavy flooding that took over his campgrounds, it might've been Ellis' most productive off-season to date.

“Even when the water was coming up, before it even flooded the camp, we said well if it hits to this point, we're going to have to do this this and this,” he said.

His preparation paid off.

In just four weeks, Ellis' campground has gone from submerged to renewed.

It's a big victory, but the storm may not be over.

“We've had a couple people cancel because they were afraid of the rain,” he said.

Meteorologists say Tahlequah is in the path for large hail and high winds Saturday night.

The GRDA plans on monitoring the river all weekend long and says campers need to stay aware.

“If you can get off the river before 5:00, lets say around 3:00, you should be okay,” said Scenic Rivers Operations Vice President Ed Fite.

Fite has seen many a Memorial Day weekend on the river and says folks need to check the forecast before they float.

“The general public at large usually have the information long before we do because of tweeting and social media,” Fite said.

Ellis is also working to make sure campers are informed.

“We have a restroom in the back here. It's not really rated a storm shelter but it's also one of the safest places out here. It's solid concrete,” he said.

But having Sparrow Hawk open this soon after flooding is the ultimate blessing for his family.

“It just kinda allows us to get started,” he said.

Police, Fire and EMS will be on standby along the entire 70-mile floating stretch of the river to help people in need.

Luckily for campers, the severe risk is for Saturday night only.

Outfitters plan on a gorgeous rest of the holiday weekend.