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New manager gives Buffalo Trace new life

Earlier this spring, Roy (Speedy) McClanahan, Palmyra’s town board president, was so unhappy with the operation and overall condition of Buffalo Trace Park that he was considering having the town take over control and operation of the 131-acre recreation facility from the Harrison County Park Dept.
McClanahan said the park, located about one mile east of Palmyra on U.S. 150, was going downhill. He claimed the town could operate the park better than the county and could build the park back up again.
“We have a beautiful park here, and many residents of Palmyra felt it wasn’t being managed properly,” McClanahan said. “The ball field was in need of repair and hadn’t been used for several years, and the restrooms were not opened, and the water was not turned on for the Easter Egg Hunt this year.”
That was in April. Now, four months later, McClanahan said Thursday, “The town board is more than pleased with the park department, the park advisory board and the new park manager. We’re happy with how the park is going now.”
McClanahan credits Cecil Thompson, the new park manager, with these improvements. Thompson, 68, a Palmyra resident, was a part-time worker at the park who was asked to manage the park when former manager Bob Burns resigned June 12. Thompson was named manager on June 26. His wife, Sue, is assistant park manager. (See photos, page 11.)
“I didn’t want to do anything more than come out here and work part-time because I’m retired,” Cecil Thompson said. “It was Larry Shickles, the park board chairman, and some park board members who asked me to manage the park.
“I really enjoy working at the park. It’s a labor of love. We have a beautiful park here, and I am working on a list of suggestions of what to do next, to present to the park board.” The suggestions include plans to light the softball field, and add more camp sites, among other things.
The park is so popular that most weekends the park camping sites are full and some campers have to be turned away.
“One change that the park board made that has helped a lot was to give each individual park manager the authority to hire and fire their own workers,” Thompson said.
During the summer, when the park is busiest, Thompson has a crew of 23 people: lifeguards, maintenance workers, and those who work at the toll booth, food concession, boat rental and petting zoo.
“It makes a big difference when you can hire a worker to do a specific job. We have a real good crew here now that is far above what we’ve had here before,” Thompson said. “I’ve got guys here that know what they’re doing and get the work done. I don’t have to tell them when the grass needs to be mowed.”
Giving the park managers more freedom is something the park board has been considering for several years.
“The park managers need to be able to manage and have the flexibility to make some decisions on their own,” Shickles said. “We’ve given them some guidelines and spending limits to go by. The board still oversees the big projects.”
In addition to the usual park maintenance work, the Buffalo Trace crew revamped the ball field area and hosted a softball tournament two Sunday afternoons ago. Six teams from local EMS, fire and police departments played.
“In three weeks, we rebuilt the backstop, the bleachers and the concession stand building, in addition to tilling up the playing field and mixing sand in with the dirt to make the field better,” Thompson said.
“One day as the workers and I were talking about putting new chain-link fencing on the backstop, and wondering where we’d get the material, a visitor to the park came up and told us he had a roll of fencing at home that we could have,” Thompson said. “It was enough to do the backstop with a little left over.”
Shickles said the park board now has a meeting each Wednesday where all the park managers get together. They ask each other for help with problems they have, make suggestions and share information.
“We have much more unity between the seven county parks now than we ever had,” Shickles said. “For example, when Buffalo Trace needed a striper for the ball field, another park manager said they had an extra one that they weren’t using and sent it there. It saved us having to buy a new one.”
The managers’ unity also extends to the Palmyra town board and the park advisory board.
“I’m pleased that the town board now feels that the county park board can run the park better than the town could have,” said Pat Walker, president of the park advisory board. “Some of what McClanahan wanted to see done was already in the works before he brought it up. He might have speeded up the process though.”
“We feel like all the parks have unity from the top to the bottom now,” Thompson said. “We’re all working together.”
McClanahan said he and the town board are so pleased with the condition of the park that the town will use some of its riverboat money to build a scoreboard at the softball field and provide a lighted sign at the entrance to the park.
“We want the residents of Palmyra to have a park they can use and be proud of,” McClanahan said. “We hope to have concerts and other special events here in the future.”
As a start, the park will host a “Miracle Mile Fitness Walk” to benefit St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital on Aug. 31 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Free food and door prizes will be provided. Walkers can contact the Town of Palmyra for more information at 812-364-6106 or 364-6408.
Buffalo Trace Park features swimming, boating and fishing on a man-made lake, camping and picnicking, a walking trail more than a mile long, and several playgrounds in addition to the softball field.