Eleven public parks that the federal agency operates in Arkansas are going to close some campgrounds, boat ramps and day use areas, as the Army Corps of Engineers' Little Rock District works to reduce its budget by $1.9 million dollars.
Operations at Lake Norfork, Bull Shoals and Greers Ferry, facilties that residents of our area often use, will be affected.
On Feb. 21, the Mountain Home Army Corps office will hold a workshop to discuss the proposals which affect Lake Norfork and Bull Shoals, and seek public reaction.
"We knew that budget cuts were coming, so a work group was appointed to look at our parks to identify areas where we could reduce services, without having too much impact on people who use the parks," Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson Laurie Driver explained. "We are not closing any popular campsites, but have chosen to make adjustments in operation at some facilities that are less used."
At Lake Norfork, the Corps is proposing closing all 40 campsites in the Jordan Campground, but will leave the boat ramp open.
At Bull Shoals, two of 19 parks will be closed - the Damsite Campground with 35 campsites and the Pontiac Campground with 33 campsites.
"The Damsite Campground is close to two other parks, where camping is available," Driver said, "and Pontiac is on high ground and gets low use in normal water years."
Budget cuts will also reduce 10 summer workers from full-time to part-time, and one temporary maintenance worker position will not be filled. Those employees work at both Lake Norfork and Bull Shoals during the recreation season.
Bigger cuts are planned at Greers Ferry. The Mill Creek and Cherokee Campgrounds will be closed. The number of campsites available will be scaled back at the Heber Springs, Sugar Loaf and Shiloh Campgrounds. In addition, the working hours of nine summer ranger positions will be reduced, and seven other summer ranger positions will not be filled.
"We have over 6,000 campsites in the Little Rock District, and only 500 are being closed," Driver said. "Our goal is to use money we do have available to operate and maintain the facilities that get the most use."
Because of its tight budget, the Army Corp of Engineers is also considering making the recreational season shorter at many parks.
On Feb. 21, two public workshops will be held in Mountain Home, at the Army Corp's Project Office at 324 West Seventh Street. The first session will be held from 2 to 4 p.m., and a second session will take place from 5 to 7 p.m.
According to Driver, Army Corp officials from the Mountain Home District, including natural resources and real estate specialists, will explain what cuts will be made, why they have to be made and inform the public how individuals and organizations can volunteer to help keep Norfork and Bull Shoals running smoothly, despite budget cuts.
"Volunteers can help the parks with mowing, trash pick up and other services," Driver said. "Some of our parks already have established volunteer organizations, and the use of volunteers has been a growing trend in recent years."
The Army Corps of Engineers is also hoping that private companies will lease and operate marinas and some other facilities that are being closed.
For example, an interested party has been in discussions with the Corps about leasing the marina at the Jordan area of Lake Norfolk, while the state or a city government may be interesting in operating the Damsite Campground at Bull Shoals, and a proposal has been received to operate the marina at the Pontiac Campground.
"We have talked with several concessionaires who are interested in taking over some facilities," Driver said. "But we have learned that (under federal regulations) any facility to be closed has to be offered first to government entities, so the process is taking some time to complete."
It seems that cuts in government services, caused by tight budgets, are becoming almost routine.
In recent months, more than 200 Arkansas post offices have been listed for closure, and the USDA wants to close 10 Farm Service Agency offices in Arkansas, including Izard and Fulton county offices.
On the state level, the Forestry Commission recently laid off 34 employees - including firefighters - because of a budget deficit, and some managers of the Department of Health's home service program are taking furlough days, while staff members who travel to patient's homes have had their travel reimbursement cut by nine cents for each mile traveled, and their hazardous-duty pay has been reduced.
Like all agencies, the Corps of Engineers promises to do the best it can with the resources it has.
Because offices will not receive funding to complete all "normal" day to day tasks, operation and maintenance needs are being separated into three categories: "must do," "should do," and "nice to do."
The goal is to meet user needs and provide the best levels of service possible, by doing as many "must do" and "should do" tasks that funding allows.