If campground owners on the Spring River in Fulton County don't curb drug and alcohol consumption and violence on the river, the Fulton County Sheriff's Department is going to drastically reduce its patrols in the area.
That's the message Fulton County Sheriff Walter Dillinger delivered to the Fulton County Quorum Court July 11.
"We spend too much time out there," said Dillinger. "It consumes too much of our resources and leaves other parts of the county without protection while we're out there on the weekends."
Dillinger asked the quorum court to find a remedy to stop the illegal activity and violence on the Spring River and the privately owned campgrounds along the river from Mammoth Spring to Hardy.
In a letter given to campground owners and quorum court members, Dillinger stated that the campgrounds are "a breeding ground for alcohol and drugs and 99 percent of the calls received by the Fulton County Sheriff's Department come from the Spring River."
Dillinger said the campground owners are partially responsible for creating an atmosphere in which excessive alcohol and drug use is permitted.
Chief deputy Paul Martin said calls from the Spring River are draining Sheriff's Department resources.
"We are constantly sending deputies out there at all times of the night," Martin said. "They start accruing comp time and then we have to let them take time off, which leaves us shorthanded during the week. It's not fair to the rest of the county."
During the Memorial Day weekend, Dillinger said the Arkansas State Police set up a roadblock at the intersection of Many Islands Road and Spring River Oaks Road.
Within one hour, officers arrested 18 persons and charged them with DWI and another 12 persons on other alcohol and drug related offenses.
"Most of them were staying at the campgrounds or got kicked out," Dillinger said.
Fulton County Judge Charles Willett said he is unsure what course of action the county should take.
"I know it's a problem, but I think everyone involved should sit down and talk about this before we take any action," Willett said. "I'm going to visit with everyone and see if we can find a solution."
One campground owner, Bob Wood, of Mammoth Spring was stunned by the letter and Dillinger's accusations.
"No one from the sheriff's office has ever contacted me to let me know this was a problem," said Wood, who owns Many Islands Campground.
Wood, who attended the Quorum Court meeting, was visibly upset over the letter.
"I take offense to them calling it a 'breeding ground,'" Wood said. "In order for it to be a breeding ground we would have to be purposefully encouraging people to drink and do drugs. No one is against that stuff more than us."
Wood said if people come to his campground and want to consume alcohol they have a legal right to do so.
"I'm not going to teach other people morality," Wood said. "And I'm not going to do the sheriff's job for him."
Wood said he is willing to work with Dillinger to find a solution for the problems on the river. He said he has been pleased with the service provided by the Fulton County Sheriff's Department.
There are too many people drinking and committing violence on the river, Wood admitted, but he said the problems are getting better. He said Dillinger told the quorum court that over the 4th of July weekend only six DWI arrests were made countywide.
"Before this stuff came up I told Walter I was tickled by the way his officers handled themselves," Wood said.
He said if the sheriff's department refuses to come to his campground he will hire more security officers and take care of the problem himself.
No action was taken by the quorum court.
In other business, court members unanimously appropriated $4,000 to build an outdoor holding pen outside the county jail.
The pen will be used as an exercise area for inmates and a detention area for misdemeanor criminals while they are being processed, said Dillinger.
Willett said construction on the pen could begin early next month.
A measure to allow new construction at the hospital will be placed before the voters later this year.
"This isn't a new tax or anything," Willett said. "We just have to have the approval of the people to start building on the hospital."
The project will be funded by a sales tax increase that has been in effect since voters approved it in April 2004.