News: Benefits = $750,000 partnership = priceless
Story by Jay Townsend
BRANSON, Mo. - You could put a price on the value added to Table Rock Lake from the Corps of Engineers' partnership with the Ozark Rivers Heritage Foundation but it wouldn’t be accurate because it’s hard to measure dedication, enjoyment and enthusiasm.
“They have been great to work with and offer so much in terms of managing the new Dewey Short Visitor Center and providing dam tours,” said park ranger Rod Raley. “Having them and all their volunteers around frees our rangers up to do things we wouldn’t otherwise have time to do.”
In 2012, the ORHF contributed $755,227 in benefits to the Table Rock Project Office and surrounding communities. What cannot be expressed in dollars is the knowledge passed on from about 7,700 tours of Table Rock Dam, 10 different interpretive programs offered at the new Dewey Short Visitor Center and the foundation’s community connections and more.
“This was the first year that we had eight campgrounds and the new Dewey Short Visitor Center, it was an adventure,” said ORHF Executive Director Sheila Thomas. “As we go forward and take in to account all the ways that we could save the Corps money the numbers will be higher.”
Among the foundation’s improvements in 2012 were the installation of a new well, purchase of furniture, installation of wireless internet at the visitor center and Indian Point campground, advertising and other park improvements. The foundation also pays for staff and supplies to manage the visitor center, and recruits volunteers who provided more than 9,300 hours in free labor last year.
“The Corps can only do so much without having to create competition for a contract and accept bids. The foundation doesn’t have to worry about threshold limits,” said Raley.
The ORHF is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) that was developed in early 2010 for the purpose of providing support for recreational facilities and projects determined to enrich the public’s quality of life by providing special events, educational programs, volunteer opportunities, advocacy, technical assistance, stewardship, land/lake access improvements and research.
“We are still establishing ourselves, as we continue to grow we’ll be able to evaluate our programs and find out where we fit in,” said Thomas.
The ORHF was also developed to provide financial and other support for the Table Rock Project recreational facilities and projects involving the general public.
The foundation’s operation is financed through product sales, fees, and donations. Revenue collected by the foundation remains at Table Rock to enhance facilities owned by the Corps whose collections are returned to the U.S. Treasury.
ORHF’s goal is to educate the public about the Ozarks waterways, promote stewardship of the natural environment, demonstrate the importance of water powered production of energy, promote water safety and encourage responsible interaction with nature while providing for the enjoyment of the area.
ORHF currently operates the Dewey Short Visitor Center and eight campgrounds around the lake. The foundation’s activities at the visitor center include providing staff for the information desk, operating the visitor center gift shop, providing public events and programs, and managing special event and room use requests.
ORHF also partners with Ride the Ducks Branson and the Corps to provide tours of Table Rock Dam from March to October and select dates in November and December.
“My staff is amazing,” said Thomas. “Just a few weeks ago they found a way to become certified interpretive guides.”
The certification will give them more credibility and help to expand the programs outside of the parks and into schools and other areas.
In 2012, the foundation saved the Corps $140,000 in cleaning contracts, to include cleaning of the visitor center, project office and powerhouse.
The foundation currently leases Moonshine Beach Recreation Area, Indian Point, Cape Fair, Aunts Creek, Baxter, Campbell Point, Mill Creek, and Old 86 campgrounds. Fees collected in these areas are retained and used for park repairs and improvements not possible with current federal budgets.
To discover how you can partner with the foundation to fulfill their mission of enriching public life through education and stewardship of the beautiful Ozark Mountain Country lakes and rivers call 417-334-6394.