MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

October 13, 2013

Commerce at corps-run lakes struggles

With campsites closed by federal shutdown, tourist trade reduced

Merchants who survive or fail based upon traffic at area lakes are coping with the partial shutdown of the federal government.

The Army Corps of Engineers locked the gates of its campgrounds and recreation areas Oct. 1 after Congress failed to fund government operations. Col. Richard Pratt, the commander of the corps’ Tulsa District, said those areas will remain closed until federal funding is restored.

“A temporary closure of our recreation facilities as part of the temporary government shutdown is very unfortunate,” Pratt said in a media release. “The Tulsa District remains committed to providing exceptional recreational opportunities in the future.”

That commitment, however, does little to ease the concerns of Paula Disney, who has worked at the Rocky Point Trading Post for about 20 years.

She said business at the store, which is at the entrance of Rocky Point Public Use Area on Fort Gibson Lake, has dropped significantly since the campground gates were  locked.

“We watch them pull up to the gate, turn around and drive off,” Disney said about lake-goers who are unaware of the campground closures. “Last weekend I couldn’t believe how slow we were — it was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and there was just nobody out here.”

Disney said the trading post sees business from regular customers in a nearby neighborhood, so her hope now is to serve them the best she can. But those sales alone make it hard to sustain operations for the long term.

“Our locals keep us pretty busy,” Disney said, adding that her opinion of the congressional calamity in Washington is unfit to print. “But it makes a big impact when people can’t come out here to the lake and launch their boats.”

Ross Adkins, a spokesman for the Tulsa District, said the corps has felt the impact of the government shutdown “just like all the others.” But the extent of that impact is hard to measure for a variety of reasons, he said.

Adkins said the office had imposed furloughs, but he was unable to provide information about how many workers were  affected. He also was unable to provide details about the economic cost of closing corps campgrounds due to lost revenue from fees that aren’t being collected.

“Basically we are in the fall and winter months, so there is a lot less recreation than there would be,” Adkins said, noting that the lakes are still open but have fewer access areas. “We are certainly being impacted just like all other federal agencies — we have got our fingers crossed (a budget deal will be made); all of us have got our fingers crossed.”

Although the closure of corps campgrounds has hurt sales at Rocky Point Trading Post, it has spurred an increase in traffic at recreational areas operated by the state. John Kilgore, the manager of Greenleaf State Park, said he has seen a noticeable increase of campers.

Kilgore said he and other state park managers have fielded an growing number of telephone calls from people confused about whether the federal shutdown has affected state parks. An extended shutdown could filter down at some point, but that is not the case now, he said.

“Definitely our RV camping has picked up,” Kilgore said. “Some folks are looking for other outlets and places to go (because corps campgrounds have closed). We are open and welcome people to come out — I hate the circumstances that have caused this, but we certainly welcome the people.”

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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