Brian Scott, NBC 5 Denton County Reporter
Several North Texas parks are at risk after the people managing them were abruptly let go. Parks at Lavon Lake, Benbrook Lake and Lewisville Lake were all run by a non-profit group hired by the Army Corps of Engineers.
A federal decision has left three North Texas parks closed, 15 more in jeopardy and hundreds of park workers out of a job.
On Sept. 13, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it was ceasing its Cooperative Joint Management agreements with nonprofits after a legal review of the program.
The agreements turned management of the parks over to local nonprofit groups that would reinvest gate fees into the parks.
Randy Cephus, Fort West District spokesman for the Corps, said it was a creative and innovative way to make dollars go further and improve parks despite the budget.
Lewisville-based Our Lands and Waters Foundation, the local partner for the district, operated 18 parks for the Corps. The group even helped revive the flood-wrecked Westlake Park in Hickory Creek and make it one of Lake Lewisville's most popular parks.
Foundation CEO Tom Burrell said the group had raised millions of dollars in gate fees during its time and had big plans to keep expanding its recreational offerings.
"We're going to have the beach here, [and a] nice, nice event center planned here," Burrell said of a new area at Westlake.
But he is not sure now what will come of any of the projects.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided Friday that the gate fees that were going back to the parks should have been going to the U.S. Treasury instead. The money was required to be turned over to the National Land and Water Conservation Fund.
"When we heard from them this last Friday, it was to say all leases had been canceled and [to] cease operations," Burrell said.
The move basically threw the nonprofit into limbo, he said. His four full-time employees and about 200 park workers were laid off. The only reason his position still exists is to try to create a future for the foundation, Burrell said.
"I don't know what the future holds for this area," he said. "I don't hold out a lot of hope at this point."
Since the decision, the Fort Worth Corps has been forced to close operations completely at Tickey Creek and Avalon Parks on Lake Lavon and at Rocky Creek Park on Benbrook Lake.
Cephus said its goal now is to keep open as many of the other properties on those lakes, Lake Lewisville and Sam Rayburn Lake as it can. That will likely require the scaling back of operations and maintenance, but impacts at each park are still being assessed, he said.
He said Our Lands and Waters was a great partner and helped the Corps grow the parks immensely, but said the district has to follow what the national Corps tells it to do.
Burrell said he would keep in contact with the Corps in hopes of reopening some sort of relationship in the future and in hopes that the foundation can continue to serve the public and the parks.
"The public's the ones that's going to be hurting; the kids," he said. "We're disappointed, but hopefully something will come up."