Lake Thurmond parks, campgrounds, boat ramps in jeopardy

Lake Thurmond parks, campgrounds, boat ramps in jeopardy

LINCOLNTON, GA (WFXG) - Several Lake Thurmond boat ramps, parks and campgrounds may be forced to shut down permanently.

The Corps of Engineers has been hit with a 1-2 punch and visitors to Lake Thurmond could feel the blow soon too.

Scott Hyatt, the Corps Operations Project Manager at Lake Thurmond, says they were already facing stiff budget cuts when Corps officials based in Washington D.C. decided they would no longer let non-profits operate parks owned by the Corps.

Between that decision and the budget cuts, people tied to the parks are already taking quite a hit.

"There were approximately maybe 26-27 jobs that were lost," said Michelle Wilson, the Executive Director for Lake Thurmond Campgrounds.

She says they were forced to cut the jobs because they don't have parks to operate anymore.

The non-profit organization has managed the Petersburg, Modoc, Ridge Road, Winfield and Raysville campgrounds at Lake Thurmond for the Army Corps of Engineers for a year because the Corps didn't have enough money to do it themselves.

Wilson says they had a contract to keep operating the parks, using the money the parks generated, for four more years.

But then Corps officials made a surprising decision.

"We were completely blindsided," she said.

The Corps decided they didn't have the authority to create cooperative management agreements with non-profits.

But they haven't closed the five parks Lake Thurmond Campgrounds operates yet.

Four of them were already scheduled to close for the season this week; the other campground stays open year round.

Wilson worries that when the start of the season comes in March the parks won't be reopened.

"If the partnership is null and void, we're in danger of the parks closing ultimately," said Wilson.

Hyatt said losing the partnership will cost them, "Operationally, they saved us $350,000 to $500,000 (in 2013)."

He says if nothing changes the 1.3 million visitors to Lake Thurmond every year could see drastic changes.

"We're going to serve probably 10 percent less of our visitors. It may be more or less than 10 percent of our parks too depending on which ones we close," he said.

He says he should know what they may have to shut down by November. He also says they'll have to cut one or two jobs.

People who support the non-profit and Corps partnerships started a campaign yesterday to get Congress to pass an amendment that would reverse the Corps decision. Already, 2,000 letters have been sent to Congressmen.

For the petition, follow this link:

Hyatt says if it doesn't pass Congress he will check with the county and state to see if they're willing to operate any parks.