Ozark County economy takes hit after historic flooding

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TECUMSEH, Mo. (KSPR) - The historic flood of 2017 continues to haunt businesses on the North Fork River.

Families who depend on the river to make a living can’t put customers in the water, and many campgrounds were washed away.

Sunburst Ranch, northeast of Tecumseh off Highway H, is one of the businesses that was hit the hardest.

Owner Amy Spencer says much of their business came from people camping, renting cabins, and bringing in RVs. There’s now no place for people to stay at the ranch. All their buildings, including their store and bath house, were taken out in the flood.

“This giant flood came down here, and it’s not the same,” said Spencer.

Spencer has been running Sunburst Ranch for 14 years with her husband, and she says this is the worst flood they’ve ever seen. According to the National Weather Service, the latest flood beat a century-old record.

Spencer took us on a tour of what use to be their camp site, and she says they've made a lot of progress over the last three weeks when it comes to cleaning up the place. Their road is washed away, but she says the biggest loss was the trees that provided valuable shade for campers.

Spencer says there won’t be any camping at Sunburst this summer, but they will rebuild and you will be able to camp there in 2018.

She says they may be able to start putting customers on their shorter float trips, to the Landing, in about a week. She says it’s going to be weeks before they can take floaters on their longer float trips, to Hammonds Mill. She says safety is her priority.

“I don’t want to put anyone's health at risk and it’s not worth it to me,” said Spencer.

Up river, Pettit’s Canoe Rental faces the same problem.

“We’re just waiting for accesses to open, so that we can put people in. And, as soon as we get that, we’re good to go,” said owner Sheri Pettit.

She says the flood damage hurts more than just the outfitters.

“It’s been hard because we have a lot of people that work for us, and they’re not able to work because we don’t have any revenue coming in to pay for their wages. So it kind of just trickles down,” Pettit said.

The business owners say, even though they won’t be putting customers on the river this Memorial Day weekend, they hope to see a lot of floaters later this summer, because their economy depends on it.

“It’s still going to be fun and it’s still going to be good, but this year they’re just going to need to be a little more careful,” said Spencer.

Spencer says people who live in the area will go out on the North Fork River to work as a team to clean it up this weekend, because there’s still a lot of trash along the banks.

She says, if you own a canoe or kayak, you should still wait a couple weeks to float the North Fork because the public accesses aren’t open, and they’re not safe to use.