Colbert County Commissioners must discontinue annual camping leases at Rose Trail Park or face losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.
The park is in western Colbert County on the banks of Bear Creek near the mouth of the Tennessee River. It has both primitive camping sites and improved campsites with water and electrical hookups, according to the Times Daily, Florence.
But unlike most Shoals campgrounds, there is virtually no turnover in the 39 campsites where some campers have remained for years and have built elaborate structures such as decks, porches, sheds, gardens, awnings and even mailboxes for their recreational vehicles.
In a letter to the county commission, new ADECA Director Doni M. Ingram said the county must take “immediate action” to discontinue the private use of campground areas.
Ingram also instructed the commission to adopt a campground plan that addresses the issue of long-term campers currently residing in the park and the management of potential future long-term stays.
The commissioners also must order campers to remove the built-ons at the campsites.
Of the 39 available spots, 17 campers have Alabama addresses while 15 reside in Mississippi and seven are from Tennessee, according to a list provided by the County Commission. The majority of the Alabama campers have Shoals addresses, but there also are renters from Creola, Decatur, Athens, Chunchula and Jasper.
Ingram told the commission that failure to correct the situation will result in Colbert County being indefinitely suspended from all ADECA grant programs.
Commission Chairman Roger Creekmore said the commission had no choice but to comply with ADECA’s request. He said letters were sent to campers outlining the changes the commission is proposing, which include ending annual camping leases.
While it has not been decided, camping will most likely be limited to two-week periods, commissioners said.
Decks, awnings, roofs and other structures built by campers must be removed, he said.
Creekmore said he expects ADECA to allow the campers who are presently occupying spaces to remain until their leases end Sept. 30.
“I have an obligation to the people of Colbert County to uphold the laws of the state and the county,” Creekmore said. “In 1970, (Colbert County) made an agreement with the state and now the state finds that we’re not in compliance with the terms of that agreement, and we must comply with the terms of that agreement.”
Failure to comply, he said, would result in a hardship on the residents of Colbert County.
He said ADECA could withhold grant funds not only from the county government, but also from municipalities in the county.
ADECA is a source of grant money for industrial development, parks and recreation, housing, water and sewer projects.
Rose Trail Park lies within Commissioner Howard Keeton’s district.
“There’s not a thing the commission can do,” Keeton said.
ADECA also ordered the commission to replace a piece of campground property that was conveyed to the Rose Trail Volunteer Fire Department. The transfer of property was a violation of the Land and Water Conservation Grant used to develop the park because it was for non-recreational use.
Creekmore said the county will replace the park property with a property of equal size at the Colbert Alloys Recreational Park, a park the county is developing on the banks of the Tennessee River.
The commission will most likely seek grant money for the park through ADECA.
Billy Smith, a Muscle Shoals resident who has had a camper at Rose Trail Park for about 10 years, said he will simply comply with the commission’s request.
“I’m not too happy about it,” Smith said. “The only thing I can do is bring (the camper) home and put it in the backyard.”
Smith said he has not made any improvements to the campsite he leased.
Clyde King, of Town Creek, also has been at Rose Trail about 10 years.
King said he added gravel to his site and built a top over his 40-foot, pull-behind trailer. He also has a cover over his fishing boat.
“There’s nothing we can do about it,” King said. “I guess we’ll just have to move.”
It isn’t the first time the situation at Rose Trail Park has been an issue.
In 2004, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) expressed concerns about permanent structures built around campers, but fell short of seeking their removal.