Corps announces cuts in Arkansas park operations | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Corps announces cuts in Arkansas park operations

Posted By on Wed, Jan 18, 2012 at 10:16 AM

ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK: Many campgrounds such as this one at Greers Ferry Lake could be closed because of federal budget cuts.
  • ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK: Many campgrounds such as this one at Greers Ferry Lake could be closed because of federal budget cuts.

I said Monday that an announcement was coming from the Little Rock District of the Corps of Engineers about cuts in staffing and park operations to cope with a tighter federal budget.

That proposed list, which first will be discussed at public hearings, came out today. Key passage:

Among tough choices being considered are changing recreation operations at 29 parks, including closing 13 campgrounds, four partial campgrounds, four day use areas, one partial day use area, and 10 boat ramps. Also under consideration is making the recreation season shorter at many additional parks.

The cuts also will affect maintenance and repairs.

Sen. Mark Pryor said the closures could take 500 of 6,000 individual campsites out of use. He commented:

“As we reduce government spending, we must prioritize services and make tough budget decisions. At the same time, I know that closing these campsites is bitter news for both the families who enjoy camping and the businesses they support. I will work with the Corps to ensure the system for selecting which sites to close is fair and that there are ample opportunities nearby to enjoy Arkansas’s outdoors.”

The full release follows:

NEWS RELEASE

Tight budgets are requiring the Little Rock District of the Army Corps of Engineers to propose changes at several of its parks, including closing some less efficient facilities.

A series of public workshops to discuss these proposals and solicit public input is being scheduled for February at Piedmont, Mo., and at Mountain Home, Heber Springs, Russellville and Ozark, Ark. The workshop times, dates and locations will be announced when they are finalized.

Among tough choices being considered are changing recreation operations at 29 parks, including closing 13 campgrounds, four partial campgrounds, four day use areas, one partial day use area, and 10 boat ramps. Also under consideration is making the recreation season shorter at many additional parks.

Other likely park adjustments include reducing the frequency of trash pick-up, cleaning and mowing, as well as reduced maintenance response time and fewer temporary park rangers, law enforcement agreements and contract park attendants.

The proposed changes will reduce costs by an estimated $1.9 million annually ($921,000 for operation and maintenance expenses and $989,000 for labor).

Little Rock District operates 178 public parks and access areas. Making adjustments to the 8 percent of its park facilities that are less efficient will allow the district to place more emphasis on the remaining 92 percent.

Besides its recreation program, Little Rock District proposes to minimize the number of requests it accepts for new and changes to existing private boat docks, as well as the number of permits for mowing on government land and permits for meandering paths across public lands to the water’s edge. Also, the district will reduce inspections of these types of permitted shoreline activities and possibly cancel boundary maintenance activities.

Regarding other business lines, periodic lock and dam maintenance, dredging, and funding of the hydropower employee training program are also affected. It is anticipated most maintenance at power plants will be performed by agreements utilizing customer funding. All the choices have consequences.

As long as a maintenance backlog exists, so does the possibility of unanticipated breakdowns, which can cause a cascading effect on the district’s operation and maintenance program. However, focusing the district’s limited dollars on priority items helps reduce the risk.

National leaders are struggling to control spending in the wake of recession, while at the same time they had to react to a series of severe floods and disasters in 2011.

Little Rock District was not immune. Spring flood damage to district parks and navigation infrastructure totaled $33.5 million. Operations and maintenance funding has been reduced $17 million, and the maintenance backlog on the district’s top 15 needs is $68 million and growing. These factors are causing the district to limit the levels of service it can offer.

During the past several months, Little Rock District performed a thorough and deliberate review of operation and maintenance programs across all business lines so the district can focus available funds on the highest priority work.

The district developed a three-tier ‘triage’ like system to help categorize and prioritize tasks because the district did not receive enough money to complete all “normal” day to day tasks.

The categories are must do, should do, and nice to do. The district will first address “must do” items before beginning “should do” items. The district does not anticipate having enough resources to accomplish any items in the “nice to do” category.

This is consistent with the Corps’ national recreation strategy to have a program that is sustainable and adaptable to fiscal challenges and responsive to user needs. And it will enable Little Rock District to provide the best levels of service within the available budget.

PROPOSED IMPACTS BY PROJECT
(As of January 17, 2012)

The following are proposed changes to park operations by lake or river project.

Beaver

Facilities
- No park facilities will close.

Personnel
- Will not fill vacant park ranger position supporting shoreline management/natural resource management.
- Will not hire one summer park ranger.

Bull Shoals

Facilities
- Adjustments involve two of the 19 parks.
- Damsite — Close all 35 campsites. Leave boat ramp open.
• Very close to two great parks, one being a state park
• City or state are interested in leasing
- Pontiac — Close all 33 campsites. Leave boat ramp open.
• Request to lease by marina has been received
• Park is on high ground and gets low use in normal water years.

Personnel (Covers entire Mountain Home office — Bull Shoals and Norfork lakes)
- Reduce hours of 10 summer personnel from full-time to part-time (24 hours weekly).
- Will not fill one temporary maintenance worker.


Clearwater

Facilities
- Adjustments involve two of the five parks.
- Propose to take two back to their “historical” season. Historical occupancy rates show low impact to public. Other parks operation is 5/15 to 9/15.

- River Road — Shorten season 134 days. New season 3/15 to 10/31.
• Opening coincides with paddlefish gigging season.
• Ramp stays open and free camping available without utilities.
• Historically very little to no campers during the time that’s being shortened
- Highway K — Shorten season 91 days. New Season 5/15 to 9/15 (was 4/1 to 10/31).
• Popular “warm weather” riverside park.
• Close gates to areas to leave five sites, vault toilet, and river access.
• No utilities.
• Historically, few or no campers during the time being shortened.

Personnel
- No negative impacts


Dardanelle

Facilities
- Adjustments affect seven of the 11 parks.
- Cabin Creek—Close day use. Leave boat ramp open.
- Cane Creek — Close all 16 campsites. Leave boat ramp open
• Leave access through park to Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife management area (popular for duck hunting)
• Low efficiency rating.
• Close proximity to other parks.
- Delaware — Close all 13 Campsites.
• Low efficiency rating.
• Very near state park facilities.
- Dwight Mission — Total closure.
• Across the road from a new state park facility with lake access.
• “Eyesore”
- Dublin Park—Partial day use closure. Leave boat ramp open.
- Piney Bay — Reduce season by 120 days (3/1 to 10/31, from year-round)
• Already in place; only one call of inquiry
• Offsets winterization charge
- Shoal Bay — Reduce season by 120 days (3/1 to 10/31, from year around)
• Already in place.
• Upgrading to 50 amp electrical service. Good investment as this park gets high usage during the summer

Personnel (Covers entire Russellville office)
- Will not fill 11 summer ranger positions.
- Defer filling one Engineering Technician.

Greers Ferry

Facilities
- Adjustments affect seven of 11 parks.
- Mill Creek — Close all 39 campsites. Leave boat ramp open.
• Volunteer agreement for keeping ramp open, mowing and picking up trash.
- Cherokee — Close all 33 campsites. Leave boat ramp open.
• Efficiency score is very low.
- Damsite — Close 89 of 230 Corps-operated campsites. Some additional sites are leased to the marina already.
• Of the four loops to be closed, one is flood prone, two are old developments in wooded areas and get low use but require frequent ranger and law enforcement time because of the “party crowd,” and the fourth area is historically low use.
- Heber Springs — Close 28 of 124 campsites; one waterborne restroom.
• Helps separate day-use from camping.
- Sugar Loaf — Close 17 of 88 campsites.
• Campsites proposed for closure are non-electric and not close to a restroom
- Shiloh — Close 17 of 115 campsites.
• Efficiency score very low.
• Area has been used for group camping only.
- Narrows — Lease all 59 campsites to concessionaire.

Personnel
- Limit working hours of nine summer ranger positions.
- Will not hire seven summer rangers.

Millwood and Tri-Lakes

Facilities
- No negative impacts

Personnel
- No negative impacts

Nimrod & Blue Mountain

Facilities
- Adjustments affect one of the seven parks.
- County Line — Close all 20 campsites
• Adjacent to Quarry Cove Park.
• Receives minimal visitation.
• Efficiency score is very low.

Personnel
- Reduce seasonal hires by 2 summer rangers, and 2 summer maintenance workers.

Norfork

Facilities
- Adjustments affect one of the 20 parks.
- Jordan — Close all 40 campsites. Leave boat ramp open.
• Marina might lease

Personnel (Mountain Home office covers Bull Shoals and Norfork lakes)
- Reduce hours of 10 summer personnel from full-time to part-time (24 hours weekly).
- Will not fill one temporary maintenance worker.


Ozark

Facilities
- Adjustments affect three of the 10 parks.
- Citadel Bluff — Close all 25 campsites and launch ramp.
• Low efficiency rating and close proximity to other access points.
- Reed Mountain — Close day use. Leave boat ramp open.
- River Ridge — Close all 24 campsites and boat ramp.
• Local community has expressed an interest in maintaining the boat ramp.

Personnel (Covers entire Russellville office)
- Will not fill 11 summer ranger positions.
- Defer filling one Engineering Technician.


Pine Bluff

Facilities
- No negative impacts

Personnel
- No negative impacts

Table Rock

Facilities
- Approve the Ozarks Rivers Heritage Foundation to take over four additional recreation areas (Old Hwy 86, Mill Creek, Baxter, and Campbell Point).
- Reduce opening dates of recreation areas on Table Rock Lake; 1 May through 15 September.
• This would impact Ozarks Rivers Heritage Foundation on parks they operate outside these dates. The foundation would have to pick up O&M and contract costs for services provided before 1 May or after 15 September.

Personnel
- Not hire seasonal personnel in recreation program. This could result in reduced or no park patrols during some weekdays as permanent staff work weekends during peak use periods.


Upper Arkansas River (Russellville Project Office)

Facilities
- Adjustments affect 6 of 13 parks.
- Bigelow — Close day use and boat ramp.
• Have had partnership with the city for years, but they no longer have an interest in continuing.
- Old Ferry Landing — Close day use and boat ramp.
• Across river from Toad Suck Park, which has a boat ramp and day use area, as well as room to expand.
- Pontoon — Close boat ramp
• Very low efficiency rating.
• Citizen complaints about illegal activities at the boat ramp.
- Sequoyah — Close all 14 campsites. No boat ramp currently.
• About ½ sites previously closed years ago.
• Cherokee park is right across the river
- Cypress Creek — Close all 9 campsites. Leave boat ramp open.
• Had a volunteer there for years with diminishing visitation.
- Sweeden Island — Close all 52 campsites.
• Redirect campers to Old Post Road Park
• Efficiency rating is very low.

Personnel (Covers entire Russellville office)
- Will not fill 11 summer ranger positions.
- Defer filling one Engineering Technician.

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