Corps can't let company run Thurmond Lake campgrounds

A cooperative agreement that allowed a nonprofit group to manage five Thur­mond Lake campgrounds must be terminated because the Army Corps of Engi­neers had no legal authority to create such a venture.

Lake Thur­mond Camp­grounds was awarded a five-year contract last March to manage the Peters­burg, Ridge Road, Modoc, Raysville and Win­field campgrounds.

“We were highly pleased with the arrangements, and we thought it was a good idea,” corps spokesman
Billy Birdwell said. “We were also doing it at Lake Hartwell but had not implemented it yet.”

The change was touted as a way to provide better services under a commercial business model, meaning the company could advertise, conduct marketing campaigns and offer retail sale items to visitors.

Based on a legal review of such programs nationwide by the corps headquarters in Washington, however, the provision that allowed nonprofits to keep and reinvest revenue back into the parks that generated them is not allowed.

“In other words, unless they change the law, the camping fees they collect must go to the U.S. Treasury,” Birdwell said. “The arrangements we were implementing were outside of our legal authority, and therefore we must end them immediately.”

The concept was devised as a way to enhance the camping experience for visitors, Birdwell said.

“One of the ways we determined we might try this is to use these nonprofits to operate the campgrounds and – under a lease agreement – they would collect the camping fees and use those fees to cover their expenses and to enhance the campgrounds,” he said.

Corps officials estimated the arrangement would translate to a savings of $300,000 to $400,000 a year.

The next step for Lake Thur­mond Campgrounds remains unclear.

“We were very surprised and we are trying to get a game plan together now,” said Michelle Wilson, the executive director of the Lincolnton-based company.

In addition to working with the corps to find a solution, the company is making contacts with members of the congressional delegations from Georgia and South Carolina.

“We thought, for our first season, it was smooth and everything ran tremendously well,” Wilson said. “We were excited about planning the 2014 season, and we are optimistic we can work this out in time for the 2014 season, but we don’t know how long it will take to do this.”

The corps has made financial rearrangements to keep all five campgrounds open for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Four sites – Ridge Road, Modoc, Raysville and Win­field – were scheduled to close for the season then anyway, Birdwell said, and the corps plans to keep Peters­burg open year-round, as scheduled.

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