Madison County leaders have spent months trying to negotiate a deal with the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to keep Watson Mill open as a “state park.” But county commissioners were hit with some contractual issues Feb. 27 that complicates plans.
The DNR decided last year to downgrade the park to an “outdoor recreational area,” which included shutting down the park’s office and laying off its staff, with park campers expected to register on a first-come, first-serve basis. Reservations are no longer taken for campers. And the park’s “group shelter” where numerous family reunions and other events were held has been closed.
The county has discussed contributing money to the maintenance of the park, roughly $26,000 a year. The aim of local commissioners is to keep the park office open from March through November so that people can make reservations to camp and use the group shelter. They’ve noted that people won’t travel long distances to use the shelter and campgrounds without a guarantee that the facilities will be available. The loss of traffic at the park will hurt the local economy, officials say.
But the state DNR isn’t ready to just hand over control of the group shelter to the county. Madison County attorney Mike Pruett reviewed a proposed contract from the DNR Monday that requires numerous documents that put the liability for the shelter on the county’s shoulders, not the state’s.