The Army Corps of Engineers announced last week that it has performed a legal review of all cooperative joint management agreements with nonprofit, cooperating associations and determined that the it is operating outside of its authority. At the minimum, agreements will require modification.
A recent internal agency review of the legal statutes determined that the agency does not have the authority to allow the cooperating associations to retain user fees collected through these arrangements. Consequently, all user fees must be deposited into the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the U.S. Treasury and the fees can no longer be retained by the cooperating association.
The Corps is currently looking at ways to keep the impacted recreation facilities open through the end of September, while the long-term impacts of these modifications are being determined.
“The Corps is proud of the recreation services we provide, being the largest provider of federal recreational opportunities in the country, and we take our recreation mission seriously,” said Brig. Gen. Thomas Kula, Southwestern Division commander. “In an effort to continue to serve the public, we have adjusted our daily operations to ensure the parks remain open through the end of the weekend and hopefully we can keep them open until the end of the current recreation season. However, the levels of service could be reduced due to financial constraints.”
The division currently has agreements with two non-profit, cooperative associations at 29 parks and recreation areas within the Fort Worth and Little Rock Districts. The Little Rock District is responsible for Table Rock Lake. The two partnership agreement associations are with Our Lands and Water Foundation and Ozarks Rivers Heritage Foundation.
Under these arrangements, cooperating associations have been collecting and retaining user fees generated from the public’s use of Corps constructed recreation facilities and reinvesting the fees to perform operations and maintenance of facilities within these jointly-managed lease areas.
Since all user fees must be deposited into the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the U.S. Treasury; the fees can no longer be retained by the cooperating association. The Little Rock District has met with the Cooperative Association and is conducting an assessment to determine the impacts and how to maintain the recreation facilities.
“This is a very unfortunate situation and we apologize to our cooperative associations for the difficulty this has caused,” said Kula. “We value our relationships with our cooperative partners and recognize that if it weren’t for these agreements the Corps would not be able to maintain the great levels of service the public has come to expect from our recreation sites. We will do everything within our capabilities to keep as many parks open through the end of this recreation season but unfortunately there will still be impacts."
The Corps’ decision will affect Table Rock operations at the Moonshine Beach Day Use Area, as well as campgrounds at Indian Point, Cape Fair, Aunts Creek, Baxter, Campbell Point, Mill Creek, and Old Highway 86. The potential impacts to these areas include reduced availability, and possibly closure, because of a lack of resources to service and maintain the parks and associated facilities.
“We are very concerned about the impact this decision will have on our partner and our recreation customers,” said Little Rock District Commander Col. Courtney Paul. “The foundation plays an integral role in providing recreational opportunities at Table Rock Lake that the public has come to expect.” Jim Sandberg, Table Rock Project Office operations project manager, said district personnel are still evaluating the long-term impacts and possible solutions, such as re-allocating resources, to keep facilities open in some capacity.
“As we work through this, we will definitely keep the public up to date on specific closures, cancellations, or any changes that impact their use of our recreation sites around the lake,” said Sandberg. “The Table Rock Lake area is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the United States, so we will do our best to keep people informed about this developing situation.”
According to its website, the foundation’s mission is to provide support for recreational facilities and projects determined to enrich the public’s quality of life by providing special events, educational programs, volunteer opportunities, advocacy, technical assistance, stewardship, land and lake access improvements, and research.
“We are working diligently to keep the affected parks and facilities open for the public and to maintain a positive, active relationship with the foundation,” said Paul. “We value our partnership with them and are seeking ways, within the law, to continue our joint recreation efforts in the Table Rock area.”
The district commander said rangers and other personnel are earnestly working to ensure the public is not impacted this season.
“We are doing whatever it takes to support our visitors through the end of September,” said Paul. “These customers are a top priority for us and rangers from Bull Shoals are teaming up with Table Rock rangers to make this happen. It will take dedication, hard work, and long hours. That’s part of our mission and we will get it done. Concurrently, we are aggressively pursuing solutions for next year.”
For information about other recreational opportunities in the Table Rock Lake area are as follows. Table Rock State Park, 417-334-4704; Roaring River State Park, 417-847-2539; City of Branson Campground, 417-334-2915; and the Port of Kimberling Campground, 417-739-5377.
Little Rock District personnel care for nearly 750,000 acres of public lands and water. The district is a national leader in water-based public recreation and manages more than 300 miles of the Arkansas River for recreation and navigation. It oversees an estimated $6.5 billion worth of public infrastructure, including hundreds of public parks and recreation areas.
For more information about the district, including contact information, go online to www.about.me/usacelittlerock.