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Deal to direct more funds back to parks
By ALLEN REED firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in The Bryan Eagle
Posted: Sunday, July 7, 2013 12:00 am
Officials from three Brazos Valley counties are poised for a big announcement this week regarding an overhaul of the operation of Lake Somerville that could potentially generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for the rural areas.
Representatives from Burleson, Lee and Washington counties will join with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday to sign a cooperative joint management agreement. The agreement, which has been five years in the making, will shift responsibility for some management from two Corps parks touching the lake, Rocky Creek Park and Yegua Creek Park, to a nonprofit group created by the counties -- the Lake Somerville Resource Management Partnership.
The Corps will retain maintenance duties at the park, but the nonprofit will operate the gates and collect the revenues that previously went to the federal government. The agreement will also allow the nonprofit to tap new areas to increase tourism, such as advertising for the parks and contracting with third-party vendors.
Burleson County Judge Mike Sutherland said he expects the nonprofit to take in $500,000 to $600,000 in annual revenue through the agreement. Officials hope that figure will grow even more with extra amenities and advertising. They also plan to expand the nonprofit organization's operations into Burleson and Lee counties.
The money, officials said, will have to be spent on the parks from which the fees are collected.
Some of the initial ideas for park improvements kicked around by Sutherland include educational centers, bathroom improvements, courtesy docks and horse rentals.
The signing ceremony will be open to the public and will begin at 1:30 p.m. at the Corps offices at the Lake Somerville Dam. The management transition will go into effect on Oct. 1, and will not affect the nearby parks operated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Doug Cox, regional partnership program manager for the Fort Worth District of the Corps, said a similar management agreement with a nonprofit group has only been arranged once prior in the district -- a 2009 agreement with the nonprofit Our Lands & Water Foundation for four North Texas lakes.
He said the agreement will result in more park funds being directly spent on the park.
"It's the wave of the future to keep these parks open and operating," Cox said.
Similarly enthused is Clint Kolby with the Brenham Economic Development Foundation.
"We really take pride that we're taking a regional approach to this," said Kolby, who serves on the nonprofit's board.
He expects the funds to create a ripple effect through the participating counties that will help drive tourists, and their disposable incomes, to Washington, Burleson and Lee counties.
"I think this a good model to use for other places for creating that public-private partnership to work together to create a positive impact on many areas," Kolby said.