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story.lead_photo.caption Keith Romero and Jessica Calhoun get their fishing equipment ready Sunday along the banks of Lake Ouachita in Lake Ouachita State Park. (The Sentinel-Record/Grace Brown)

HOT SPRINGS -- The Vicksburg District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reopened beaches, swimming areas, picnic shelters, pavilions and group use areas Wednesday at Lake Ouachita, Lake Greeson and DeGray Lake.

Visitors to beaches and swimming areas are encouraged to adhere to "preventive health measures," such as social distancing and the wearing of masks when not in the water, in an effort to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.

They are also encouraged to follow guidance from local, state and federal officials, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Eric Jenkins, Lake Ouachita project manager, said the decision to reopen the areas was made after discussions with officials in various state agencies, including the Arkansas State Parks.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

"We're excited to welcome the folks back to the lake," he said.

Information about the number of visitors in a group will be requested during the reservation process for picnic shelters, pavilions and group use areas, a news release said, and visitors to the areas "must follow state directives for gatherings at large outdoor venues."

"The park rangers will be out," Jenkins said when asked if the park will enforce the rules. "The bad thing is that park rangers can't be everywhere. Visitors will have to be responsible. We just encourage them to do their part to reduce risks."

Signs with information about covid-19 symptoms, measures to prevent the spread of the virus and social distancing have been installed in key locations at each facility, including shower houses, comfort stations, fee booths, bulletin boards, beaches, access roads, day use area parking lots and pavilions.

"After consulting with our local and state partners and other USACE offices, including the Little Rock District, we have decided to reopen select recreation areas at our Arkansas lakes," the Corps' Vicksburg District Commander Col. Robert Hilliard said in the release.

"The health and safety of our team, our community and our visitors remain our top priority, and we are taking measures to reduce risk. The pandemic is an ongoing and fluid challenge, and we will continue to monitor conditions and adjust operations as needed."

Jenkins said visitation numbers have been good at the park.

"We've had a lot of visitors all spring [and], we expect a lot of people to come to the lake," he said.

Campgrounds and their accompanying amenities at Lake Ouachita, Lake Greeson and DeGray Lake reopened May 20, and reservations and payments for select campsites must be made in advance at Recreation.gov.

Boat ramps, nature trails and fishing areas, as well as nearby amenities, remain open. Applications for special use permits will be reviewed and approved on a case-by-case basis. The collection of all day use fees has been suspended until Oct. 1.

"All playgrounds, visitor centers, field offices, amphitheaters and drinking fountains will remain closed until further notice," the release said. "Interpretive programs will remain suspended until further notice."

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