Future of Viney Creek up in the air
Sand filtration system presents monetary challenge to park's operation
Missouri State Parks has issued notice to the Army Corps of Engineers saying it is relinquishing the lease for the Viney Creek Recreational Area.
Effective Sept. 15, the park will once again belong to the Corps, which had planned to close it earlier this year before the parks department stepped in.
Laurie Driver, public affairs specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers in Little Rock, Ark., said the Corps has received the letter, and the future of the park is unknown at this time.
"We will evaluate if anyone else wants to lease it before we make any further decisions," she said.
According to the letter, sent to the Corps by William Bryan, director of Missouri State Parks, monetary issues with a waste water system at the park is leading the department to back away.
"While we are appreciative of the support from local residents during our tenure as managers of the Viney Creek Recreation Area, we do not have available funds to make the necessary improvements to the waste water system and bring it into compliance with the new regulations set to go into effect on Oct. 1," the letter said.
Driver said the issue is a 30-year-old sand filtration system used at the park, as there are no hook-ups to the city sewer system there. Because of the new EPA regulations, Driver said it is estimated to cost $50,000 to $100,000 to bring the system into compliance, depending on factors like the system's type and the amount it is used, among others.
Driver said four other parks, Campbell Point, Baxter, Cape Fair and Aunts Creek, each have the same sand filtration system and those will be replaced by the Corps.
The system at Viney Creek, however, would come as-is to any organization that attempts to lease the park.
"I do not believe the Corps plans to upgrade the system at Viney Creek," Driver said. "We're looking at our priorities with a limited budget and will put the money where the most visitors go."
Cherry Warren, presiding commissioner for Barry County, said the county does not have funding available to upgrade the sand filtration system, but officials are working to find a way to get it done.
"We're looking for the means to get it fixed," he said. "I wouldn't feel comfortable spending $50,000 or $75,000 to fix it, but we're working with [State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob,] and the federal officeholders to do everything we can to keep it up and running."
Warren said the circumstances surrounding Viney Creek are unfortunate, and he hopes there will be something done to keep it open.
"Viney Creek is a nice area, and the government has spent a lot of money there, and I'd hate to see it abandoned," he said. We haven't yet found a way to keep it open, but we haven't given up."
According to Missouri State Parks, 9,330 people visited the park from its opening on May 23 through Aug. 31, bringing in a total of $25,093 in camping and boat launch fees. The park averaged 23.56 percent capacity at its campsites, topping off at 31.3 percent in June, and there were a total of 208 launch permits given.
Driver said 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, including Viney Creek, 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.
Driver said the recreation season closes on Sept. 15 and opens again next spring, and the Corps is hopeful Viney Creek will be leased next year.