* * *
“Ready, boys,” yelled Scott Logan of Council Bluffs aboard his Crownline 180 speedboat.
As Jared Garner and Josh Krabbe, both 14, gave the thumbs-up, Logan revved the engine and bore down on the accelerator. Water exploded from behind the boat's engine.
The boys held on for dear life upon their two-person tube.
Reaching speeds upward of 35 mph, the boys went on a five-minute tubing run, braving wake after wake before they fell off into the waters of Lake Manawa in the Bluffs.
A year ago at Lake Manawa State Park, activities like tubing and water skiing weren't possible because of no-wake restrictions enforced by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Water recreation lovers were forced to find new playgrounds as record 2011 flooding ended recreational boating not only at Manawa but also on the Missouri River.
But this Fourth of July, it's the boaters who are flooding — back to Manawa and the Missouri. Both are back in business, and both were hopping on Wednesday.
“(Lake Manawa) is busy. You can tell everybody missed it last year,” Logan said. “This is the busiest I've ever seen it.”
He wasn't kidding.
A variety of vessels — including speedboats, pontoons, sailboats and personal watercraft — were scattered across the lake on a blazing Independence Day.
Lake Manawa park manager Dan Jacobs said an estimated 75 boats were out around 2 p.m., a number he said is getting close to Manawa's summer norm.
“It's been pretty good so far this year. ... The lake has stayed pretty full,” he said.
For the past two years, Missouri River flooding meant Herb Angell could take the holiday off.
But Wednesday, the boating law administrator for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission returned to the river to make sure holiday boaters were on their best behavior.
“It just means another Fourth of July I won't be able to spend with my family,” joked Angell, who spent the day surveying the mighty Mo.
Angell said boaters took advantage of the midweek holiday and got out on the water.
“We expect heavy traffic out there because of fireworks shows,” Angell said. The river offers prime viewing of shows such as The World-Herald's annual event at TD Ameritrade Park and at the casinos on the other side of the river.
In past years, Angell said, up to 400 boats took to the river to celebrate the holiday. That would be especially heavy traffic this year, when Omaha has only one boat launch. The downtown marina, damaged in flooding last year, has yet to reopen, so the only place boaters can enter the water is N.P. Dodge Marina north of the Mormon Bridge.
This year, things got a little congested for boaters, Angell said.
“The N.P. Dodge parking lot was full of trailers,” he said. “There were cars parked in the lot, on the grass and wherever else there was space in the park.”
Other access ramps include the Blair city ramp under the Highway 30 bridge and Narrows River Park just off Interstate 80's exit 55 in Council Bluffs.
Meanwhile, others made their way out to Lake McConaughy, just a couple of miles north of Ogallala, Neb. Bonnie Nemecek, owner of Kingsley Lodge near the lake, said the past two weeks have been busy with out-of-town visitors.
“We have a lot of people staying from Omaha and Lincoln,” she said.
Nemecek also said about 20 percent of the lodge's guests are coming from Colorado to get away from wildfires.
While area officials are glad waterway traffic is making its way back to normal, boaters like Logan, his family and friends are happy to get back into their usual summer routine, spending the sweltering days of summer on the water.
They're making memories, like that of one Wednesday tubing run gone hilariously wrong — the story of a wardrobe malfunction that Logan and friends will retell for many Fourths to come.
“It was quite the deal,” he said. “She was like, ‘I'm serious. My pants are gone.' ”
Contact the writer: