County exploring leasing Viney Creek

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Commission, Corps hope to make deal to keep area open

The Barry County Commission is in negotiations with the Table Rock Lake and Dam Board and the Army Corps of Engineers in Little Rock, Ark., to lease the Viney Creek Recreational Area, which was tabbed for closure earlier this year.

Cherry Warren, presiding commissioner, said the county has completed a right of availability to see if it can lease the park, and is waiting for negotiations to begin.

"At this point, they will send us a draft lease and see if we're still interested in discussing it," he said. "Their regulations require they look for other interested groups, but they don't see any coming forward."

Laurie Driver, public affairs specialist for the Corps, said the Corps would be thrilled to have an entity lease the park and keep it open.

"We would absolutely prefer to keep it open," she said. "We know there's lots of folks that use it and it's important to them. If it stays open through the leasing process, we would much prefer that to closure."

While Driver said the Corps hopes to keep Viney Creek open, she said the leasing process may or may not be completed by the original target opening date of May 15.

"The leasing process is generally not really quick, and we have to go back and forth [with Barry County] on requirements," she said. "I don't know if we can get it done before May 15, but it could open mid-year or whenever the process is complete. There is a number of options."

Driver said the Corps will not officially announce the closure or leasing of Viney Creek until all negotiations have ended.

The process begins with the Corps double-checking that no other government entities or native American tribes are interested, and a federal entity would have preference over a state, county or municipality's interest. Driver said no one has shown interest except for Barry County, so far.

If the county is chosen, it will have to provide proof of insurance and a plan of operations and maintenance, and once all those documents are approved, a lease will be signed.

Viney Creek was tabbed for closure in February due to $500,000 in budget cuts to the Table Rock Lake and Dam. Factors contributing to the decision included: funding, the number of visitors, and the lack of an outside municipality or non-profit to lease the area.

Viney Creek Recreational Area cost $43,852.69 to operate in 2013, and it recorded 14,304 visitors, making it the least-visited of the 17 parks managed by the Table Rock Lake and Dam project office. The most-visited of those parks is Indian Point near Branson, which recorded 394,760 visitors last year.

In 2013, Viney Creek Recreational Area collected about $30,000 in usage fees, but Driver said that money is shipped directly to U.S. Treasury coffers, not back to the project office.

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