Trail of Tears dealing with shrinking budget

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The shrinking budget for Trail of Tears State Park does not include money to repair Lake Boutin, but park officials are looking at alternatives to bring swimming back to the park.

The Department of Natural Resources held a public meeting at the park Saturday to discuss ongoing projects and the park's budget. For fiscal year 2010, the park will receive $97,171 from the department, a drop from the $149,308 initially allocated for fiscal year 2009.

In December, the department cut 15 percent of money originally allocated for fiscal year 2009, said Denise Dowling, interpretive resource coordinator and acting natural resource manager. When funds were appropriated for the current fiscal year, parks saw another 15 percent cut, she said.

She said Trail of Tears submitted a request to close during December, January and February to stay within its operating budget. There are also two open positions that cannot be filled because of dwindling funds.

Closing the park is the best solution to save money and cause minimal impact to visitors, said Greg Combs, field operations supervisor for the Eastern Parks Division of Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The department has yet to decide on the request.

Meanwhile, areas in the park need repairs, including Lake Boutin, Moccasin Springs Road and Sheppard's Point.

Heavy rains in March 2008 caused high water levels in Lake Boutin, which put pressure on the dam. Seismic activity the next month further damaged the structure, Combs said. Initial repair estimates came in at $1 million.

"We realize we don't have $1 million to invest in this structure," he said.

To keep the the dam safe, park employees drained 10 feet of water out of the lake. In the process, they also drained the shallower swimming area.

The lake has been closed to swimmers since, which has hurt park attendance.

"Campers packed up and left because there was no swimming," Dowling said.

In 2007, campers reserved 685 campsites in the upper campground of the park. In 2008, that number dropped to 372. Between January and August there were 444 reserved sites, she said.

The park is looking at making repairs to re-establish the swimming area with the lake at its current level. Dowling said she hopes it will be open for swimming next year.

"The reality is this is where the lake level is going to be for a while," Dowling said.

In the next couple of weeks, divers will assess the swimming area to look at the possibility of relocating it. The park is trying to buy a pump because it has rented or borrowed a pump to bring the level down after heavy rains.

The lake has been open for special events. It opened for a triathlon last weekend and will be open for the annual Polar Bear Plunge. Dowling said lifeguards and emergency personnel are on hand to help on those occasions.

The meeting, which drew about 10 members of the public, also addressed other repair projects. The culvert on Moccasin Springs Road will be replaced. Dowling said the park will reroute the trail around Sheppard's Point, which has been closed because of landslides. Dowling said she is trying to get labor from the Department of Corrections to help create the new trail.

abusch@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent addressee:

Trail of Tears State Park

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