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Budget crunch hits corps’ Lanier parks

Agency looks at partnership to keep parks in the black

POSTED: June 6, 2013 11:53 p.m.

Faced with shrinking budgets, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking at whether it can continue to operate all its recreational areas, including parks.

“The bottom line is if a park’s not worth it, we’re either going to lease it out, close it or ... divest ourselves of it,” said Tim Rainey, operations project manager at Lake Lanier.

He said Lake Lanier is looking at a “managing partnership” idea to keep open parks that might otherwise close.

“It’s worked elsewhere — we’re going to get it working here,” Rainey said.

Instead of just leasing out a park to a state or local government, the corps would develop a “cooperative management” agreement with a nonprofit organization, then lease a park or a number of parks to the organization.

Because it’s not simply a lease “and the government still has an interest in (the parks) and we’re still doing work in there, it allows us to count ... that park in our total visitation numbers that we use to submit for our budgets,” Rainey said.

“On the other hand, since it’s a leased area and they’re collecting the fees, it allows the (organization) to keep the fees collected and whatever is (not used for overhead) can go into an account that we can maintain for major repairs,” he said.

The fee structure — in terms of who would set it — “is another detail I need to work out yet,” he said.

Rainey cited the U.S. Forest Service as an example of a government agency that already has entered into such an agreement. Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Association operates a park area at Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest mountain, in Towns and Union counties.

“That’s where (Cradle of Forestry) took us when we met with them,” Rainey said.

The corps also is interested in talking with Our Lands & Waters Foundation.

“Our intent, as the (corps’) Mobile District, would be to sign the agreement districtwide with both (organizations), and then each project within the district could negotiate with either entity and figure out what works best,” Rainey said.

If all goes as planned, the partnership could begin next year for Lake Lanier, which has parks scattered around its 692-mile shoreline, many in Hall County.

The effort has some urgency to it, Rainey noted.

In comments Wednesday night at the Lake Lanier Association’s annual membership meeting in Forsyth County, he said the corps has developed the National Recreation Adjustment Plan to address the funding issue.

“Corps budgets nationwide aren’t going to be what they used to be,” Rainey said. “We have a large inventory of assets across the country, across the world. Dams, flood control structures, navigation channels — we’re not getting the budgets to maintain them.”

Managers in all corps areas, including water quality and supply, “are doing a portfolio assessment,” Rainey said.

“It’s going on all across the country,” he added.

Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Lake Lanier Association, welcomed the news about the cooperative agreements.

“I don’t have a problem with that at all,” she said. “In fact, I think that’s probably a good way to handle (park operation). Quite frankly, I don’t think the Corps of Engineers’ strong suit is running a park.

“I think they’re really good at managing the water and shoreline operations,” Cloud said, “but in terms of day-to-day park management, an organization that’s focused on parks and recreation would be a better entity to oversee that.”


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