Out with the sunbathers and in with the drone racers.
The Army Corps of Engineers decided this summer to stop maintaining one of three beaches at Coralville Lake, letting the former Sandy Beach revert to grass and considering new uses for the area, including drone racing.
“People who ask to fly drones, that’s one area where they can go,” said Jonathan Wuebker, supervisory natural resource specialist at Coralville Lake.
The Corps is considering adding features for drone racing including takeoff and landing zones or obstacles, Wuebker said.
“We don’t want to lose use of the area,” he said.
One drone enthusiast said he’s pleased to hear about a new place for drone use.
“I think a lot of our members would use it,” Christian Alvarado, 24, of Cedar Rapids, said of the former beach.
Alvarado is a member of Midwest Rotor Sports, a Cedar Rapids-based club for people interested in drones or other remote-controlled aircraft. The 20 to 30 active members participate in activities including indoor and outdoor drone racing and freestyling, where “whoever looks the coolest doing the tricks wins,” Alvarado said.
One of the newer ways to race is through first-person view, or FPV, in which a racer guides the aircraft through a series of obstacles while viewing what the drone “sees” through a video camera on the drone.
Midwest Rotor Sports often uses Seminole Valley Park in Cedar Rapids, an area the city has approved for drone use, Alvarado said. But because the park isn’t dedicated for drone racing, members have to remove racing obstacles after each event and store them elsewhere, he said.
Alvarado likes the idea of a permanent drone racing course at Coralville Lake.
“If they are looking to set up a course, that would be awesome,” he said.
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The Corps expects to save about $10,000 a year by decommissioning Sandy Beach, on the north side of the lake near Shueyville, Wuebker said. Beach maintenance costs include weekly water testing, buoy replacement and sand.
Because Sandy Beach doesn’t have as much water flow as the rest of the lake, it often had poorer water quality than the lake’s other beaches, at Sugar Bottom and West Overlook, he said.
“Since implementation and removal of the beach designation and utilization specific to boat ramp and shoreline access only, the utilization has increased as pets are allowed and the area does not have the same restrictions as designated swim areas,” Wuebker said.
A handful of people using the beach recently said they were glad to still have boat access at the former Sandy Beach.
“I get it. It costs them money,” Marsha Jensen, of Davenport, said of beach maintenance. She and her husband, Steve Jensen, camp at various Coralville Lake campgrounds one weekend a summer. They were pulling their kayaks up the partially grassed beach to the nearby Sandy Beach Campground. “This is our favorite.”
The Corps expects to make the area fee-free next year.
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