But visitors to five Thurmond Lake campgrounds might notice some differences this spring as the Army Corps of Engineers sites reopen under new management by a nonprofit corporation.
“It’s a cooperative agreement, where a nonprofit can do a lot of things the corps can’t,” said Clay Turner, the operations manager of Lake Thurmond Campgrounds, which has a five-year contract to manage Petersburg, Ridge Road, Modoc, Raysville and Winfield campgrounds.
The change will allow the company to manage the sites under a commercial business model, meaning they can advertise, conduct marketing campaigns, offer retail sale items to visitors and – perhaps most importantly – reinvest revenue back into the parks that generated them.
“In the past, all the money collected went into the U.S. Treasury, but as a nonprofit, all the receivables stay here,” said Michelle Wilson, the executive director of the Lincolnton-based company, also known as Outdoor Recreation & Outreach Inc.
Corps officials estimate the new arrangement will translate to an annual cost savings of $300,000 to $400,000 a year in a district where federal cuts have sliced recreation dollars by 20 percent in the past six years.
The corps will continue to provide major repairs, ranger patrols and other services, while Lake Thurmond Campgrounds will provide enhanced stewardship and services such as mowing, cleaning, trash collection and interpretive activities.
“This year, every park will have an on-site host,” Wilson said. “We hope to keep the facilities cleaner than they’ve ever been.”
Restrooms that had weekly cleanings in the past could be cleaned as often as twice a day during peak season, she said.
The organization’s non-profit status allows it to sell items to visitors, such as firewood, insect repellent and charcoal.
Lake Thurmond Campgrounds is joining the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce and has recruited corporate business partners including CSRA Camperland, Turner Realty, Harry’s Equipment Center, Hayes Marine, Office Express and Blanchard Equipment.
One campground – Petersburg in Columbia County – stays open year-round, while the other four under the company’s management will open March 29.