Weather-weary Priest Lake residents finally got a break this weekend.
The floodwaters receded, the sun made an appearance Saturday, the county lifted its emergency no-wake rule and boats are back on the water.
For the first weekend in several months, the community got a respite from winter storms and spring flooding. An area that has long been a regional playground is slowly getting back on its feet; tourists and summer residents are trickling in and leaving a harsh winter behind.
Bill Reynolds of Bishop’s Marina recalled Thanksgiving when he shoveled nearly 3 feet of snow off the docks, only to have 10 more inches fall while he worked.
“The weather just kept coming at us,” Reynolds explained.
Shortly after the first big snowfall, an ice storm knocked out power around the lake for weeks and toppled trees onto popular snowmobiling trails. So much snow fell during the winter that the Idaho Department of Fish and Game had to feed the deer.
Then when the immense snowpack started melting this spring, the lake swelled and swelled until residents were running for sandbags.
Coolin resident Merle Langley had attached a yardstick to a dock piling to keep track of the rising water. On May 17, he woke up to water in his yard.
“We had a north wind and waves were breaking on the lawn,” he said.
Residents, the volunteer fire department and others mobilized to save low-lying homes along the shoreline. The Langley’s called the Spokane owners of the summer homes next door, and they drove up with pickups full of sandbags.
An appeal over the local radio station brought in help from Newport, Wash., and Priest River. At that point, the lake was about 3 feet over summer level. The lake level has fluctuated since then, but now it’s about 2 feet over summer level and dropping.
But for weeks, the county imposed a no-wake zone a half-mile from all shorelines - putting a crimp on the start of the season.
“Now I’ve got to get rid of all that sand,” said Langley, who has about 4,200 sandbags along his shoreline. He and his neighbors will augment their beaches with the bounty, he said.
Although it came close, the lake didn’t get as high as it did in 1974, said longtime residents Everett and Anna Mae Luckey. They still have a watermark on their porch from that record year.
This year, the water stopped short of their retaining wall. They still have a wall of sandbags in their lawn, but they plan to remove it this week.
“I don’t think it will come up again,” Everett Luckey said.
Now Priest Lake businesses are wondering if tourists and summer visitors will start coming up again.
The summer boating season usually starts in early May, but not this year, said Reynolds at Bishops Marina. “It’s slow,” he said.