For more than four years, we have been reporting on an effort to build a recreational park in rural Madison County. Supervisors approved the project, work began, and more than $2 million was spent. Now, however, the project is in limbo as new members of the board look to spend money elsewhere.
Supervisor Paul Griffin says water attracts people, and that's one of the reasons he's been trying so hard to get the park and lake built in his district, northeast of Canton.
"It's going to happen, because we've got faith," Griffin says. "And it's a good idea."
Griffin's fellow supervisors apparently agreed. They green-lighted the project, with much of the money coming from an Urban Renewal District bond. Work soon began, and the lake bed took shape.
Things began to change when three of the supervisors were voted out of office in 2015. The newly-constituted board then ended the county's relationship with the engineer who had designed the park. Since then, not much has happened on the property, though the lake is now full, despite early concerns about the quality of the dirt and sand beneath it.
Trey Baxter is one of those new supervisors and currently serves as board president. He says the project has been a waste of money that could have been spent on some of the county's overburdened roads clogged with commuters every morning and night.
"I believe the county should cut its losses," Baxter says. "We have over $2 million in the project. We have a $895,000 URD bond still outstanding... And of that $2 million, over $700,000 is in engineering fees."
Baxter says the previous board grossly mismanaged the county, leaving it $81 million in debt toady and facing a $31 million lawsuit over how a parkway project near I-55 was handled. He says that, combined with the need for wider roads, makes a park in a sparsely populated area seem wasteful, by comparison.
Additionally, he points out that the area already has a park.
"[The park] has a fire station, a conference center, walking trails, playground, and the Paul Griffin Library," he says. "It's within five miles [of the Sulphur Springs park]. We have a park. We have places for people to go and entertain themselves. At this juncture, the county doesn't feel that we need to push forward with another park."
Griffin says the new park would be for the whole county to enjoy. He says the lake has been stocked with fish that will soon be big enough for catching. For now, however, no one can visit, because there's no driveway, no parking lot, and no walking trails. All that takes more money, and so far, Griffin's colleagues on the board are not interested.
"I would like to see maybe Game & Fish take it over," Baxter says. " I think bow ranges are important these days; they're exploding for the youth. If they were interested in taking it over, that would be great."
"God put it on this earth to be a park," counters Griffin. and that's what we would like to see."
Baxter says the county's attorney is still examining the legalities of selling the park, likely at a steep loss. Griffin says it appraised for somewhere around $400,000. Griffin vows to keep fighting for more money to get it open.
Previous stories on the Sulphur Springs project: