We still rent out a lot of shelters, said Recreation Director Tom Beck. And this time of year, if you go out early, youll see lots of fishermen out there, too.
The park, which adjoins New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, has been a recreational staple for south Augusta residents for much of the sites 72-year history.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which built the project in 1937 and still owns the property, leases the park to the city of Augusta.
Visitation has declined in each of the past four fiscal years, dropping from 374,892 in 2005 to 201,265 last year.
Mr. Beck said there have been no large festivals at the park in recent years, but he believes the site provides an essential benefit for residents.
It doesnt pay for itself, but the quality of life benefit it provides is a definite factor, he said. If it wasnt being used at all, it would become an issue. But we see it being used a lot.
The Augusta Commission recently agreed to renew its lease, he said.
Its a 10-year lease that would run through 2018, he said. Were responsible for both the park and the locks, which is personnel, utilities, maintenance all the things that go with it.
Operating the locks, both for traffic on the Savannah River and to aid fish migration, is a major component of the citys role. American shad and shortnose sturgeon swim upriver each spring, but their path is blocked by the dam. Opening the locks allows them to continue upstream.
The project was built as an aid to commercial river traffic. Because that commerce no longer exists, the corps has placed the site on the back burner and even proposed in 1999 that it be demolished.
Local governments mounted an effort to save the dam and its 13-mile pool of water tapped by industries and cities upstream.
In 2000, an agreement was reached to renovate the site and turn it over to local municipalities to maintain. Stakeholders included North Augusta, Aiken County and Augusta, which would contribute to maintenance.
However, Congress hasnt come up with the estimated $22 million needed for the renovation, which was to include a fish passage device at New Savannah Bluff.
Last week, the corps Savannah District announced $94.3 million in projects it would fund with stimulus dollars but New Savannah Bluff was absent.
Corps spokesman Billy Birdwell said the stimulus program was designed for projects that were ready to begin.
At one time we could have said yes, but thats been a while, he said. Things change over time. We cant say were just going to start something we talked about a few years ago. Wed have to go back and look at it again to see what differences there might be.
The corps still intends to renovate the site and repair the aging locks. Once that happens, the land and park nearby could be formally deeded to the city or the consortium of local governments.
The number of visitors at New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam:
Fiscal Year 2005 374,892
Fiscal Year 2006 334,275
Fiscal Year 2007 242,582
Fiscal Year 2008 201,265
Source: Army Corps of Engineers