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April 17, 2012 10:01 PM

Prepare For Landing

yankton, sd

Summer tourist season is just around the corner and that means lots of families will be booking vacations.

One of the traditional hot spots near Yankton doesn't look so hot right now following last year's record flooding on the Missouri River.  Larson's Landing was once a quiet, relaxing place for campers and homeowners, but it was ravaged by high water wiping out nearly everything inside the park.

Vacationers like sand, but not like this.  Piles upon piles of broken up sand bags still line the shores at Larson's Landing.

"It looks like a war zone over there, no question about it," campground owner Doug Larson said.

When the Army Corps of Engineers made the decision to release record amounts of water from the dams along the Missouri River last year, Larson knew the park he had owned and run for over three decades was going to be in deep water.

"This was our home, our income, our business, our annuity or whatever all wrapped up into one and all of a sudden it was gone," Doug said.

The 150,000 sandbags were no match for the powerful rushing water of the Mighty Mo. You can still see the water line and just how deep it got in the park.

"Five houses, they just crushed; they were just totaled," Doug said.

The disaster took a devastating toll on the park and on Larson's.  In all, 15 mobile homes were lost.

"We had trouble getting up for a long time.  It was depressing, but you can't be that way.  You have to be cheery," Linda Larson said.

They even lost their own house in the flood that eventually had to be torn down with the others.

"You know, it's your home and when it's full of water and mold, you are thinking, 'Wow.'  And they started crushing it and saw your shower coming out and your toilet coming out; carpet coming out.  It was sad," Linda said.

The mobile homes have now been replaced by RV pads for campers. 

Although it's been a struggle, the Larsons are determined to get the park back into shape, back to what it once looked like.  But they know it's going to take time and people.

"Everyone who was camping down here really felt like this was their summer home.  They felt like they lost their own place.  In fact, they were very helpful during the flood.  Helped us get ready for it and some of them are back here now, helping us clean up," Doug said.

One of the real jewels here at Larson's Landing used to be the beach: 150 feet of sand that gradually sloped out to the Missouri River.  But Mother Nature took it all away.

"Now you go out three feet from this bank, it just drops down ten feet.  Took everything out; all the sands gone.  There's no bottom anymore," Doug said.

The Larsons pulled tons of sand and silt out of their marina. It will now double as their beach because they say the river in this area is now too dangerous for swimming.

The Larsons have been cleaning up the park since August and say they are slowly making progress.  The Larsons plan on keeping a large tree stump and placing it in the park as a memorial of sorts.

"This looks good compared to what it did a month ago.  I know that doesn't seem like that to you, but to us, it does.  It looks really good," Linda said.

Proving the river didn't take everything, especially their spirit.

"I want to thank all the people who have helped us since the flood.  500 to 600 people down here helping us and our campers have been helping us.  We really appreciate it because we couldn't do it without them," Linda said.

"You just got to go with what the river gives you, I guess," Doug said.

People are coming back; the RV pads are already all rented for the summer. But they are building 30 more. The Larsons plan on holding an open house August 1.

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