FORT WORTH — The Army Corps of Engineers may have to shut down or cut back on operations at several North Texas recreation areas — including Benbrook Lake — after agreements with a nonprofit organization were abruptly canceled Friday.The corps said in a news release that it conducted a “legal review” of joint management agreements and leases it had with the Our Lands and Waters Foundation for Benbrook Lake, Lake Lewisville, Lake Lavon and Sam Rayburn Reservoir.The agreement, which goes back to 2009, allowed the nonprofit foundation to collect fees from the public using the parks for camping, swimming, boating and other activities and re-invest that money to maintain the parks and facilities in the jointly managed areas.Last year, about $2.2 million was collected from Lewisville, Lavon, Benbrook and Sam Rayburn lakes, foundation officials said. As of Aug. 25, about $1.7 million was collected from visitors to the recreation areas this year. Rhonda Paige, a spokeswoman for the corps, did not return calls seeking comment Monday. But a news release issued late last week said that after a legal review of the agreements between the corps and the foundation, the fees now must be deposited in the Lands and Waters Conservation Fund within the U.S. Treasury and could not be retained by the local foundation.“We met with Our Lands and Waters Foundation to inform them that based on the legal review and determination they must immediately curtail expenditures of any funds generated by user fees,” Col. Charles Klinge, commander of the Fort Worth district, said in the news release “We also informed the foundation that we would take over all operations and maintenance of our recreational facilities.”Due to the current budget environment, these changes in operations could result in either reducing the level of service or closing some recreational areas, the corp stated. Tom Burrell, president and chief executive officer of Our Lands and Waters Foundation, based in Lewisville, said he learned that the leases with the corps were canceled Friday.“The corps dropped these leases, and we are out of the picture,” Burrell said. “We’ve had agreements with them for the past four years, and so have other foundations.”He added that canceling the agreements affects 40 recreation areas throughout the country, including those in North Texas and Branson, Mo.Burrell said the foundation is proposing to contract with the corps to take responsibility for the recreation areas and to take the burden of managing and maintaining them “out of the government’s hands.”The parks offer everything from picnicking and swimming to boating and primitive camping. The fees range from $4 to visit a “day park” for picnicking or launching a boat to approximately $30 for camping with sewer and electricity connections.“We regret the circumstances that require us to discontinue our cooperative agreement with Our Lands and Waters Foundation, and are working diligently to find alternative solutions to keep our recreational facilities open,” Klinge said.
Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696 Twitter: @fwstliz