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Attendance, income ‘phenomenal’ at parks

Hot, dry weather, high gas prices, increased publicity, and lower fees for some visitors have combined to make this season a record-breaker so far in attendance and income for the Harrison County Parks Dept.
‘Things have been phenomenal,’ said Claudia Howard, director of the park system, yesterday. ‘The weather’s been on our side, for one thing.
‘We call this Miami North,’ Howard said, with a laugh. ‘It has been hot enough.
‘But we’ve had hot weather before, and I have not seen this type of participation in the three years I’ve been here.’
High gasoline prices are probably keeping some folks closer to home.
‘With gas prices as high as they are, you can do mini-vacations at facilities right here in the county,’ Howard said.
The publication in April of a special insert in The Corydon Democrat, ‘Earth Day 2005: A special look at our Harrison County Parks,’ may have helped boost attendance, especially among new residents.
‘We’ve had a lot of people coming into the parks saying, ‘I didn’t have any idea this was here!’ ‘ Howard said.
‘It appears this has been a record-breaking year for us,’ she said.
Camping as well as swimming is now available at South Harrison Park between Elizabeth and Laconia on S.R. 11, and at Buffalo Trace Park off U.S. 150 east of Palmyra, which has a beach and fishing lake. Camping fees for modern facilities are $18, and $13 for primitive (down from $14 last year) at both places.
Special camping rates for seniors have been eliminated, because that age group usually camps in a modern RV spot. So the fees were lowered by $1 in primitive camping, where young families usually stay.
Complaints that the shower and bathroom facilities are too far from the camp sites at South Harrison should soon come to an end.
‘The walls are up, the plumbing is stubbed in, and we’re ready to put the trusses up for the roof,’ said Howard, who is serving as the general contractor on the project. ‘We hope it’s complete in a couple of weeks.’
When it opens, the women will have three showers and five toilets; the men will have three showers, three toilets and two urinals. The showers include one for handicapped visitors on each side.
The price? Howard said the costs have been spread over three years and should total $43,500.
She has been using money budgeted over the past couple of years to buy supplies ahead, such as fixtures and concrete blocks.
Previously, campers had to use showers at the swimming pool.
At Hayswood Nature Reserve west of Corydon, complaints about a lack of modern facilities have been common, but that, too, could soon end. Whereas the park is a ‘nature reserve’ and thus shouldn’t contain anything that isn’t ‘natural,’ like running water and flush toilets, Howard said the rest-room facilities are a different matter, for health reasons. ‘You can’t wash your hands there,’ she said. Approval has already been obtained from the former owners of the land, who donated it to the park system.
So, she’s planning to use $25,000 in this year’s park budget for construction and is asking the Harrison County Community Foundation for $10,000 for planning by an architect and engineer, at $5,000 each. (The next round of grants will be announced this fall.)
The number of swimmers is up from last year at Buffalo Trace and the May and Joe Rhoads Memorial Pool in Corydon, especially through the July 4 weekend. Buffalo Trace had 724 swimmers compared to 334 in 2004; Rhoads pool had 850 swimmers compared to 620 last year.
The numbers declined at South Harrison slightly, from 346 in 2004 to 266 this year. Revenues were up at the three sites more than $400 for the weekend. As of the end of June, 8,825 swimmers had taken advantage of the county’s three public swim facilities.
By the end of May, year-to-date revenue had increased by 52 percent over 2002 and 20 percent over 2004, from $30,724 in 2002, and $38,031 last year to $46,613 this year.
In 2003, the figures were skewed by cool, rainy weather, Howard said.
The YMCA in Corydon is apparently cutting into swimming lessons somewhat, because those usually take place early in the year when cold weather can be a factor at outdoor pools, Howard said. But the Y hasn’t affected the number of swimmers, at least not so far. ‘I think people are swimming at both places,’ Howard said.
Another factor in the increased usage at South Harrison and Palmyra is likely the entrance fees that have already been paid for all Harrison Countians at South Harrison and those from Morgan Township at Buffalo Trace.
Howard said the athletic association, the swim team and the township trustees in the nearby five townships have joined together in the south to pre-pay the entry fees for cars at South Harrison, and the Morgan Township Trustee has paid for those residents who go to Buffalo Trace.
The costs of annual swim passes hasn’t been affected, because the $65 for a family of five includes just one car per family. Non-residents pay $100. Out-of-county visitors are most common at Buffalo Trace, which draws well from Georgetown to the east and Washington County from the north, Howard said.
This year’s increases are significant especially because the budget is down four percent over last year, which hasn’t allowed for full maintenance crews.
The parks department has its own property tax rate, which means the parks can’t rely on additional appropriations from the county general account.
‘If there’s anything out of the ordinary, we don’t have the reserves to ask for an additional in park funds,’ she said. ‘That’s the one thing that’s leaving my stomach tied.’
The board could ask for help from riverboat funds, but Howard said the parks department has been instructed to plan for the future without help from riverboat taxes. That money has been capped at $23.4 million a year by the state, which could take more in the future.
June figures compiled yesterday show increases in each of the past four years except 2003 which was plagued by bad weather. In 2004, the parks took in $102,404, and in 2005 to date, $117,943. This year’s budget for all seven parks in the system is $717,110. Of that, the state allowed miscellaneous park revenue of $180,000 to fund the budget.
The costs of maintenance was cut by 25 percent in this year’s budget, yet the parks appear not to be suffering. ‘Knowing the maintenance budget has been cut, I think our parks look unbelievably good for the traffic we’ve had,’ Howard said.
‘The staff has been giving 125 percent to keep the parks beautiful. All the staff has been pitching in.’