BELTON — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ winter closure plans for parks around Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes raised concerns for some members of Bell County’s angling and hunting communities.
“I feel like there’s going to be a lot of people who will have to put in at one boat ramp and then travel over open water in smaller johnboats where we want to hunt or fish,” said Michael Cox, who lives on the east side of Arrowhead Cove. Cox added he doesn’t feel traveling across open areas in a small, shallow draft boat is particularly safe.
Cox’s sentiments are shared by some other members of the fishing community. William B. Woods of Temple said he is concerned the closures will allow Corps of Engineers employees and gate attendants to pick and choose who will have access to the lakes.
“The lakes are maintained by taxpayers’ dollars. I shouldn’t have to call and make reservations to use the facilities,” Woods said. “The lakes ought to be open to anybody on a first-come, first-served basis.”
The concerns that were raised by local anglers and hunters have not translated into many written comments about the proposal, said Ronnie Bruggman, the Corps of Engineers’ lakes manager for Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes.
“We had about 80 people show up at the public information exchange Wednesday night and we received four written comments,” Bruggman said, adding that Corps of Engineers staff received many oral comments.
Concerned residents are asked to submit their comments in writing, either by email or by post, before the comment period closes Aug. 30, Bruggman said. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org; and the U.S. Postal Service address is U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Belton/Stillhouse Hollow Lake, 3740 Farm-to-Market 1670, Belton, TX 76513.
“We want to make sure we get the comments right,” Bruggman said. “So we’re also asking for a name and contact information.”
No trouble for businesses
Some local business owners aren’t particularly concerned about the closures.
“Closing down the parks in the winter doesn’t hurt us at all,” said Regina Randall, an employee at Stillhouse Hollow Marina. “We’ve got an indoor/outdoor fishing area with a fire pit that we light and warm the place up with.”
Troy Davis, owner of Waterside Sports, a paddle board and kayak rental shop, said the closures won’t disrupt his business at all.
“We launch at Morgan’s Point Marina so we won’t be particularly affected,” Davis said.
The plan being explored by the Corps of Engineers would alter the parks’ seasonal schedules by shutting down underused areas from Oct. 1 to March 1.
The proposal will allow the Corps of Engineers to “realign their priorities” to the summer months of March 1 through Oct. 1, when the parks receive 80 percent of their visitors, Bruggman said.
Not a full closure
The plan being presented is not a full closure of facilities. Patrons will still be able to launch boats, but there will be fewer boat ramps open, he added.
The proposed closure of portions of the facilities during the winter months will allow the Corps of Engineers to open all facilities March 1, a month earlier than usual.
Both Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes are on a six-month winter cycle, with winter lasting from October to April and summer from April to October.
Corps staff is proposing moving the opening date up from April 1 to capitalize on March visitors.
Proposed winter operations schedule for Belton Lake parks:
1. Partial park closures (boat ramps will remain open, but various campsites, pavilions and swim beaches will be closed)
2. Cedar Ridge Park
3. Temple’s Lake Park (south boat ramp will be closed)
3. Live Oak Ridge Park (boat ramp open to campers)
4. Westcliff Park
5. Belton Lakeview Park
6. Full park closures
7. Arrowhead Park
8. Owl Creek Park
9. Winkler Park
10. White Flint Park
11. Sparta Valley
NOTE: The public will still be able to enter and exit the parks that are under full closure.
Stillhouse Hollow Lake will have no full park closures. The proposed winter operations schedule for Stillhouse Hollow Lake park:
1. Partial park closures (boat ramps will remain open)
2. Dana Peak Park (biking/hiking trails will be open)
3. Union Grove Park
4. Stillhouse Park