PREFACE TO RECENT KERR LAKE MEETING OF KLPW MEMBERS, NC STATE PARKS OFFICIALS & LEGISLATOR: COMPILATION OF PUBLIC CONCERNS
IMPORTANT NOTE: The document below is a compilation of concerns and issues collected from campers, park visitors, tourists, members of Kerr Lake Park Watch, all shared in a joint meeting held at Satterwhite Point on Wednesday, October 4th. It should be pointed out and noted, all of the below problems, concerns and issues did not develop in a short while; they have existed longer than the 13 years of Kerr Lake Park Watch. KLPW thanks the local and statewide NC Parks officials for coming to the table to discuss how to make our seven (7) NC State Recreation Areas better.
CONCERNS & ISSUES FOR JOINT MEETING
NC Representative Frank Sossamon, NC State Parks Director Brian Strong & Raleigh & Regional Parks Leadership, KLSRA Superintendents Bill Stanley & Keith Nealson
Kerr Lake Park Watch Steering Committee Members & KLPW Members
Wednesday, October 4, 2023 – Satterwhite Point Glass House
Building New Communications & Understandings From Issues & Concerns with Procedures, Practices and Situations
Kerr Lake Park Watch (KLPW) is here because we love Kerr Lake. Campers and KLPW do not pretend to understand all the challenges that the NC State Parks leadership and employees have while working within the bureaucracy and constraints of state government. We are not here to condemn the Park Rangers, who for the most part, perform their duties as per their job description and leadership. Also, we know that COVID 2020 affected everything in our society, including our parks and their operations.
This meeting is to bring out issues and concerns that the campers, users and visitors have expressed, many for quite some time, and to help form a consensus on each and every identified issue/concern. Such expression and explanations from the points of view from the KLPW side, the NC State Parks side and the Legislative side can achieve such consensuses.
Hopefully, with better understanding and commonality of goals, the end results will be better State Recreation Areas at Kerr Lake, better service to visitors, and a growth to local tourism.
We may not get a chance to resolve every issue listed, but this is a very good start. The below compilation comes from KLPW steering committee members and general members, and mostly from the general public, the actual users, visitors, and tourists who frequent the seven parks.
COMMUNICATIONS – To and With Campers, Visitors and Park Users
- Recent complaints about changes due to new enforcement of previously approved rules, and/or new rules.
- Decisions seem to be made quickly without much advance and proper public information dissemination. There was no notice sent to KLPW and our 5,000 social media followers about:
- Changing from an eleven (11) month advance registration to six months
- The camp host program was changed without prior notice to long time hosts not giving them sufficient time to reserve personal sites the next year.
- 4PM check in rule, which has never been enforced. Enforcement of not allowing campers on a vacant site early if it has been vacant for some amount of time is just senseless…and charging to get on a site that was vacated early and was paid for by previous camper is not acceptable, if legal. KLSRA does not have enough maintenance employees to clean vacated sites between 3 and 4 PM every day. Recent more strict enforcement of check-in/check-out times was not communicated until campers arrived at gate house the first time 2023.
- Lady conducting her legal business outside of park gates being stopped from offering free delivery and pickup for kayaks and canoes.
- Park operations seem to have become more about rules than service to the public, and the customer service attitude has deteriorated. This has effects on tourism.
- Maintenance & Seasonal work seems to have improved since COVID; however, most campers when asked, think the parks are understaffed.
The solutions to such problems are to provide more public communications, much more in advance of new policies and rule changes to give the public time to learn of, adapt and hopefully, react more positively. Advance notice should be at least three (3) months before a decision on any policy or rule change is considered.
These entities should be utilized regularly and consistently when informing the public on any and all KLSRA points:
- On the state parks website when registering
- To the local media in the Granville, Vance & Warren County areas
- To Kerr Lake Park Watch for public dissemination
CAMPER SAFETY & TOURISM FRIENDLINESS – Visitor Safety Is A Priority and A Must Condition For Tourism Growth
- This begins and ends at the Entrance Booth. Knowing who is in the park and where they should be is the first level for park safety.
- The booth should always be occupied by an SRA employee ( temp, maintenance, Ranger) with training to log visitors and campers in and campers out and resolve visitor issues whenever the entrance gate is unlocked and open.
- Emergency communication in the campground should be provided with the expectation that an individual needing help is alone in the park and has no communication device.
- A physical communication device should be provided at each area of the campgrounds with instructions for emergency use. The device should be programmed to first dial the Entrance Booth, next the on-call Ranger, next 911.
- Camp host program (note: changes were not handled well) provides a camp host who is a large direct part of campground safety and should always be scheduled in the campground whenever the campground is in operation. The camp host should:
- be from North Carolina, as North Carolinians should have priority over out-of-staters to serve as camp hosts.
- have complete knowledge of the campground and surrounding community, including but not limited to, RV services, camp supplies, restaurants, entertainment venues, medical services and more.
- be provided with a readily identifiable campground vehicle, without exception, to make rounds.
- be readily available to the visitors and be in an openly accessible area as much as possible, with their campsite’s location indicated and signed at the park entrance. Instructions on availability and where to see and communicate with the camp host should be posted at each area bathhouse.
- be physically able to respond to an emergency in the campground.
- Camp host IN or Camp host OUT signs should be displayed at the camp host site.
KLSRA Rules – Many SRA Rules & NC State Parks Rules Seem Incongruent
- When changing rules/policies, or changing a rule previously not enforced to enforcement level, KLSRA should issue advance notice. Such changes should be discussed by the, hopefully to be created, KLSRA Advisory Council.
- A complete list of rules and regulations that apply to KLSRA visitors should be printed in a non-legalese format and posted at the park entrance and somewhere online for all to view.
- The rules should also be provided when a reservation is made on line or at the gate house. Copy of rules should be provided to campers upon check-in.
- Changes to the rules should not be made without input from the campers who have been in the park in the last 6 months and whose emails are listed in the reservation system. If there is a public hearing conducted in Raleigh, then campers and visitors should be notified.
- Advance notice should be at least 3 months before a decision on a rule change is considered.
- Another possibility is a communication line (phone and email) or some feasible mechanism that should be permanently established and advertised online and at the entrance booths of the KLSRA campgrounds for complaints and suggestions.
- All KLSRA complaints and suggestions should be listed with their resolutions in an online database.
- An online Kerr Lake SRA web site should be initiated and used for announcements of all types. (openings, closings, appreciations, awards, anything informational to the SRA visitors) Directions to the site should be on the reservation sheets and posted at the booth. Many of us in KLPW have had to direct new campers to their sites.
KERR LAKE SRA PARK CONDITIONS & NEEDS
- Campsites (unlevel, 50amp service, vegetation management)
- Demand has never been greater. ALL SEVEN KLSRA’s need additional electrical and water sites.
- Upgraded sites…Maintenance team did good job at Hibernia Area 1 upgrades…but why are the sites not level? RV’s need close to level.
- Campsites need 50AMP electrical service…campers have been requesting this for years!
- Campsites set up to be 90 degrees to road create a challenge when backing an RV onto the site.
- Sites need to be monitored for low hanging limbs, encroaching vegetation or dead trees that could endanger campers (Rangers should be identifying these issues for maintenance or seasonal employees).
- SRA roads are substandard for modern camping equipment. The roads in the SRA were laid out and sized in the 1960s for 1960s vehicles and equipment. The roads are not wide enough or have wide enough shoulders for large modern RVs and pull trailers to safely navigate.
- The roads have sharp turns and many one lane sections that cause RVs and boats to go off the pavement with possible damage to tires: with some campers dropping an axle.
- The roads need to be brought up to and kept in accordance to state DOT specifications with no single lane widths.
- There are not enough sites. More of the undeveloped sites should be modernized to current levels. Construction should be by commercial construction companies with the necessary equipment and engineering staff. KLSRA maintenance should then take over responsibility thereafter.
- Entrance Stations Generally Stay Unmanned & Fairly Wasted Resource
- Hit or miss manned (should at a minimum be manned during check-in hours)
- Looks nice but not functional if not manned to take in revenue.
- A ranger should be there when he is not patrolling the park, thus the ranger sees everyone entering and leaving the park. The entrance station should become the ranger’s office as it is heated/cooled, has a bathroom, computer and phone. The entrance stations should become the rangers’ offices.
- Trash pickup at the sites that was ended during COVID should be resumed with the storage dumpsters moved back to the remote KLSRA areas. They smell and are in too close proximity to camp areas. Dumpster locations are not cleaned regularly after wildlife has scattered trash.
KERR LAKE SRA PARK DUTIES HAVE CHANGED & SO HAVE ACCOUNTABILITY & PUBLIC SERVICE
- One of the biggest downfalls to the public has been the change of one person, a ranger, in charge of all aspects of managing the Kerr Lake State Recreation Area. The centralization and segregation of service functions has led to general deterioration. There is currently no single point of park ownership (Ranger? Seasonal? Maintenance?).
- Rangers do their job as they are told; they are told to focus on law enforcement, but when KLPW checked just a few years ago, only sixteen (16) citations were written for the seven SRA’s in one year.
- Unfortunately, NC State Parks acts as a law enforcement training ground, where rangers leave after getting trained and enter police or sheriff’s departments at elevated positions.
- Rangers seldom interact with campers unless enforcing rules/laws (no Customer relations interactions as required in job description) and the teaching about wildlife, natural resources and opportunity to enhance tourism does not occur.
- Suggestion: Have a “Park Owner Ranger” who is not of law enforcement but whose primary responsibility is park management. Then have a small group of strictly law enforcement rangers.
- These issues the public sees or perceives, and perception is reality, are because of the over emphasis of law enforcement duties by Raleigh, over park ranger duties that should be paramount.
- So, the very big issue with the current Ranger model is that there appears to be no single point of responsibility/ownership for the park as there was with the old Ranger model.
- Reserve America fees (unacceptable)
- $3/night fee to RSA is excessive when other states only charge $3/reservation
- Volunteer workday…this has been a camper request for years. We have had one!
- Prior to season opening have a camper volunteer workday/weekend. Advertise via email months/weeks in advance so camper volunteers could plan for it. This would require the park staff (Ranger and Maintenance) to develop a list of projects for volunteers.
- Volunteers would sign a waiver and then help with projects preparing the SRAs to open for the season. What a help this would be to the under staffed SRA employees. Allow volunteers to bring their RVs for the volunteer weekend so they can spend their time effectively working in the parks.
NC STATE PARKS NEEDS TO ADOPT CHEAPER BUILDING COST & ABANDON NEW DESIGNS FOR EVERY PROJECT
- Kerr Lake Park Watch paid nearly $200 for a set of plans for the last bathhouse built several years ago at Hibernia.
- That bathhouse costs the taxpayers of North Carolina about $875,000 but could have been built for less than $400,000.
- Offices of State Construction & Property – Require New & Original Plans on Every State-Owned Structure to be Built in NC – “Where does such authority come from?
- Even though the State of North Carolina owns and retains every set of building plans on any structure in the state, new plans from new designs are to be produced with each building.
- Kerr Lake Park Watch discovered this while investigating why a state park bathhouse should cost $850,000, plus.
- For at least three to five years, plans should be workable for multiple buildings, especially bathhouses to be built “cookie-cutter” or copied. That means that if the Division of NC State Parks was planning to build six (6) bathhouses, they could be identical, which cuts out the need for the eight to fifteen percent design fee, now on every building, of the total construction price ($850,000 bathhouse = $68,000 to $127,500 for design).
- Kerr Lake Park Watch asked for the statutes that require a new design for every building built by the State of North Carolina. We never received anything. We were told that several state parks officials were told to mind their own shop.
- The State Auditor has ruled that if there are acceptable designs in plans already owned by the State of North Carolina, then a diligent search for, and use again of those plans, is the law.
THE BIGGEST GOAL OF TODAY’S MEETING SHOULD BE THE ACTUAL ESTABLISHMENT OF A VALID KERR LAKE ADVISORY COUNCIL
- Such a council has not met in over a decade.
- Appointments were filled in by name only, with no meetings held.
- A new council should be written into the APC as a rule with appointments of KLSRA users and related persons, such as tourism, economic development and others. Local legislators should make some appointments to such a council.