Corps-run park, boat ramp and campground at Theodosia: MOVING THE THEODOSIA PARK?
Editor's note: This story has been updated from the print edition to correct a county road number and a county employee's job in the citizens' comments section.
Former Western District Commissioner Greg Donley attended this week’s Ozark County Commissioners’ meeting to discuss a proposal for changing the location of the park and campground on Bull Shoals Lake in Theodosia that’s owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Donley had initiated the original proposal last year when he was Ozark County Western District Commissioner.
Moving the campground
Donley says he thinks the current location of the park, boat ramp and campground, on a shoreline connecting to the Theodosia Marina Resort, should be closed. In its place, a new “class A park” should be built at Rainbow Ridge, a Corps-owned property located just north of, and visible from, the Theodosia bridge.
Class A campsites usually have a driveway, electrical hook-up, picnic table and fire ring. Campers can also generally expect showers and some type of toilets, either flushable or pit, along with potable water at a Class A campground.
Rainbow Ridge covers about 100 acres, more or less, given the fluctuating lake level, of Corps-owned property on a gently sloping hill that sits across the lake from the current boat ramp. The property is accessed from Highway 160 in Isabella by turning onto County Road 863, near the former Isabella Ready-Mix plant, then turning left onto County Road 865 (turning right takes drivers to Haskins Ford).
A proposal put on hold by covid
“Well, it’s been a year ago since I’d written the letter,” Donley said, referring to an official proposal he sent to U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt with the help of former Ozark County resident Dennis Lawson, who has since moved out of the county. “Then covid hit, and we dropped it. We figured there wouldn’t be any movement on it then anyway.”
Donley brought the proposal to the current commissioners this week to ask that they continue the effort – with his help, if they’d like it.
“I think we need to talk to Jason Smith, Roy Blunt, Karla Eslinger, Travis Smith… all of them. Even though it’s funded federally, we need to start at our state level and let them talk to the federal officials too… We’ve got a senator and representative that we can contact who know who we are,” Donley said, referring to 33rd District Missouri Sen. Karla Eslinger of Wasola and 155th District State Representative Travis Smith, who lives in Twin Bridges, just outside the Ozark County line in Douglas County, a few miles northeast of Dora. “So, if you guys want to go along with that, that’d be good, and if you want me to help any, I’ll be glad to help.”
The only Corps-run park in Ozark County
In Donley’s proposal letter, he explains that Bull Shoals Lake has been above the power pool of 659 feet for more than half of the last six years, with almost all of the high water occurring during summer months, the busiest time of year for lake recreation in Ozark County.
The Corps raised the top of the conservation pool from its former level, 654 feet, to its new level of 659 feet in 2013, a move that has translated to higher lake water and reduced public access for Ozark Countians and those visiting here since that time.
“The impact on our county’s recreation and tourism has been greatly affected,” Donley wrote. “What has affected us the most is dependable access to the lake, such as a boat ramp or park.”
Donley explained that the Theodosia park is the only Corps-operated campground left on Bull Shoals Lake in Ozark County.
A Corps-owned campground and access at Tecumseh on Norfork Lake were destroyed by an historic flood in 2017. The Corps chose to rebuild only the boat ramp and parking area; the campground was not rebuilt. A Corps-owned campground at Spring Creek, near Isabella, was closed several years ago; only a boat ramp remains there. A small campground at Udall on Lake Norfork offers primitive campsites and a boat ramp.
A campground on Corps property at Pontiac is leased and operated by Pontiac Cove Marina, a private business.
‘Save taxes and increase county revenue, promote tourism, create economic opportunity’
“It is our understanding, at the Ozark County Com-mission, that the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission successfully lobbied the U.S. Congress to raise the power pool at Bull Shoals Lake to benefit their trout fishing downstream of Bull Shoals,” the letter continues. “In addition, the Arkansas Game and Fish agreed to pay for any negative impact the rise in power pool was going to cause our county. We now feel they should have built our county a new park. As that did not happen, we are petitioning Congress to approve USACE funding to close the current costly and routinely unusable park at Theodosia, and build a class A park on Rainbow Ridge.”
Donley argues that the land is already owned by the Corps and includes a gentle slope that would allow a boat ramp to be accessible at all times of the year.
“The current park is flooded often and is covered with debris, damaged picnic areas and is unsightly. The USACE has repeatedly cleaned this park up only to have it flooded again,” Donley said. “The cost of clean-up and repair has been repeated over and over. A new park would save taxes and increase county revenue, promote tourism, create an economic opportunity for our citizens, while providing a dependable area of recreation for Ozark County residents.”
The commissioners discuss the project
“It’s pretty frustrating to have a park that they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on…and then the lake comes up over it and destroys it,” said Presiding Commissioner John Turner.
Turner said he thinks the current Theodosia park has been renovated several times over the last decade only to have the lake rise repeatedly and destroy all the work.
“Two years ago, they went and put rock, new pavement… the whole deal, and then the lake come up over it,” Western District Commissioner Layne Nance said. “I don’t know what that cost, but that costs a bunch of money, and for what? …to sit there under water. It has been under water now for two years.”
Donley said during the last renovation, the Corps decided not to replace the campground coverings and only left the campsites and picnic tables.
“Which is how they need to leave it, because it’s just going to keep flooding,” Donley said.
Turner said the Pontiac campground is nice because of the way the land lays in that area, allowing the campground to be built on top of a bluff area.
“They don’t lose one camping spot, no matter how high the lake gets. [The Corps] needs to find another place like that to have this park. This could be that place,” he said. “They already own the land over there, so they wouldn’t have to buy anything. It has an access road that’s chip and sealed, I believe most of the way down to it.” Donley said another added benefit would be that the campground would have a “one way in, one way out” roadway, which would help with security issues.
“And it really would revitalize Isabella, which doesn’t even have a store now,” Donley said. “I guarantee if a class A park went in there, there’d be a store go in at Isabella.”
Affecting Theodosia Marina Resort
Donley told the commissioners that he’d spoken with Bret Cook, a member of the family that owns Theodosia Marina Resort, which adjoins the current Theodosia park, about the possibility of moving the park from its location near their resort to the new location on Rainbow Ridge. Cook is in favor of the move, Donley said.
“It wouldn’t do anything but help them. A park would absolutely bring in more people to the area, to that part of the lake,” Ozark County Clerk Brian Wise said, indicating that the current park isn’t bringing in campers because it has been inaccessible and unusable much of the time.
Donley agreed and added that it would be nearly impossible for another competing marina to be built in the area because Theodosia Marina Resort is the furthest area easily accessible during lower water levels. He added that Bull Shoals Lake has strict restrictions on the number of commercial businesses allowed to be built alongside the lake.
The commissioners agreed that the project is a good one, and Turner said he’d make sure federal and state officials are aware of the proposal and get another copy of Donley’s proposal.
Another discussion about County Road 514
In other business, the commissioners heard from a few residents who are unhappy with the condition of their county road.
Darrin Becker and John Spears, who also attended last week’s meeting, returned to the commissioners’ meeting to again discuss the condition of the road where they live, County Road 514, which connects to County Road 527 in the Mammoth area at Possum Walk Creek.
Another resident from that road, Larry Bottjen, also attended the meeting.
“Did you drive up my road last week?” Becker asked.
“I did,” Collins answered. “It looks about like it always has. It’s better than when I started, I’ll just say that. There’s just nothing to work with out there. There’s no dirt. There’s nothing but solid rock, and it’s been that way for years.”
Becker had told Collins that the county road grader had not been down his road since last June, but Collins said the grader operator’s timesheet indicates he’d graded the road in March. Becker told the commissioner he didn’t believe it.
“I’m the overseer of their job, and I’ve got a good crew, and none of them has ever lied to me,” Collins said.
‘Cat with his britches down’
Bottjen then asked the commissioners if he could speak, and they welcomed his comments.
He explained that he had bought a piece of property on County Road 514 about four years ago and relocated from his home in Alaska.
Bottjen said he agreed with Collins that the road was pretty much the same as when he’d moved in, but he had noticed that a load of gravel was applied to the road a few years back, which he said helped motorists in a big way.
“The only comments I make here are because I’ve been trying to educate myself. Ozark County is the world’s best kept secret. I’ve been around the world. It is the world’s best kept secret. I love it. I’ve driven a lot of county roads. There are none worst than 514,” Bottjen said.
Collins and Western District Commissioner Layne Nance disagreed, saying there are several that are in worse condition, and they’d be happy to show him where they were.
Bottjen said he understood and agreed that he’d not been on all the roads in the county.
“Is there not sufficient funds to bring in more material? Because you’re right, there’s not a lot to work with. It’s bedrock,” Bottjen said. “The only thing to do is spread more material.”
Collins said he currently has several FEMA-funded work projects that have to be completed before he can dip into his budget for other projects. He explained that one project is the $50,000 job of fixing Warren Bridge. He also explained that his budget is limited for gravel.
“I’m caught like a cat with his britches down,” Collins said. “I can’t do any more right now.”
Bottjen asked when Collins thought he might be able to return to the other county road projects, and Collins said he had hoped he would have all the FEMA-funded work completed by the end of the year.
The commissioners agreed that when the weather and road are dry enough, they’ll have the grader operator make a pass through the roadway, and hopefully in the next year or so they may have gravel to put down on some of the road.
“That’d be really nice,” Bottjen said. “Even one pass through would be really helpful.”
Another upset resident
As the commissioners were wrapping up the meeting, Ozark County resident Sam Ellison came into the room, upset about the condition of County Road 903 off Highway 95 in the Theodosia/Longrun area. Ellison said he lives on County Road 902, which adjoins the County Road 903.
“I had a load of cattle coming in . . . , and the driver wasn’t happy,” Ellison said. “On the hill, he spun out. Boys, it’s rough. I get a potload of cattle turned out over this [expletive], and I’m not going to be happy at all.”
Ellison mentioned that the “cattle pot” was a truck hauling around 80,000 pounds of cattle.
“I told [the driver], ‘Cool your heels on this road.’ I told him there’s some washouts on there,” Ellison said. “I’m aggravated the truck said he wouldn’t come back on a road like that.”
Ellison directed his words toward Nance, the current western district commissioner, and Donley, the former commissioner, explaining that he’d thought a county foreman had purposefully kept gravel from his section of the roadway, and he was tired of it.
Ellison said he’d used his own money to put down gravel and fix the issues.
As tensions grew and harsh words were exchanged, Turner decided to end the meeting, explaining that Ellison, Nance and Donley could finish their discussion, just not during the public meeting.