Without the money to pay for repairs and maintenance, about 70 percent of Arkansas campgrounds could be close to a shutdown, the Associated Press reports.
Unlike most other states, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controls about 70 percent of the recreational facilities in Arkansas, including campgrounds and lakes.
Tourist spending within 30 miles of Corps-run parks topped $500 million last year, but Col. Benjamin Butler, district engineer for the Little Rock Park District, said they’ve had to temporarily close 20 parks this year and that without more money, more could close in the future.
Richard Davies, executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, said losing more parks would have a substantial economic impact because overnight visitors buy gasoline and groceries and support area businesses.
P.J. Spaul, spokesman for the Corps’ Little Rock Division, said money for recreation naturally takes a back seat to projects necessary for public health and safety.
“There’s not enough money all around, and we’ll focus our money first on all of the things that are important for public health and public safety,” Spaul said.
Beyond basic repair and maintenance, Arkansas recreational facilities also need extensive modernization to keep up with campers’ demands, Spaul said. When the parks were built 60 years ago, they only needed to accommodate tents and small boats, he said.
“What we needed in a park was a gravel road out to the park, a tent pad, maybe a picnic table and a grill and a small single-lane launch ramp for a john boat,” Spaul said. “People’s usage patterns have changed. Now they have bass boats and need 50-amp outlets to run those dual air conditioners and they need paved, level turnouts for their RVs. Some people even want capability to set up a satellite dish.”
To combat the money shortages, Butler said, the Army is trying a new budgeting system that he thinks should help put more money where it needs to be. The new system will force similar projects to compete with each other for funding, Butler said.