Fees eyed for Otter Creek in plans to reopen
The Otter Creek Outdoor Recreation Area, OCORA, formerly known as Otter Creek Park, will start the new year with a new lease on life.
But that process is going to take time, officials with the Department of Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission confirmed.
Park manager, Charlie Logsdon, a native of the area, said it would be next spring or early summer before the gates would swing open – again – for residents to enjoy the 2,155-acre park, which fronts the Ohio River.
The city of Louisville, which once operated the property as a Metro Park, closed it two years ago. City officials cited budget cuts as the reason for closing the facility.
Logsdon said his primary responsibility will be the OCORA, but he also is the next in-line manager for another facility.
“The majority of my time will be spent at Otter Creek, though,” he said. “I will be living in a residence off-site but within a reasonable driving distance.”
The current park manager’s residence is unhabitable and likely will need to be removed, Fish and Wildlife spokesperson, Mark Marraccini said, thus the need for an off-site residence.
The reason for the opening delay are the numerous improvements which must be made to buildings and roads, according to Logsdon and Marraccini.
As part of that issue, Fish and Wildlife Commission members considered and approved access fees and hunting regulations for the OCORA during their Dec. 3 meeting in Frankfort.
Commission members considered a proposal to charge access and special activity permit fees to users to help offset the area’s operational costs. The proposed entry fee would be $3 a day for each visitor, or $30 for year-round access. Children under 12 would be admitted free.
Another proposal calls for a special activity permit fee of $7 a day, or $70 for an annual pass. This permit would be required for visitors mountain biking, horseback riding or using the shooting range.
The higher costs for the special activity permit will generate revenues necessary to maintain the areas. No reduced fees are envisioned for Meade County residents.
Anglers and hunters will pay the $3 daily access fee in addition to a valid hunting or fishing license and appropriate permits.
Other proposals commissioners considered include two separate weekend-only gun seasons for deer, archery hunting for deer and other hunting season dates.
Hunters may pursue squirrels, rabbits, furbearers, turkeys and deer once the park reopens. Squirrel and furbearer hunting will be open under statewide regulations. In 2011, rabbits may be hunted from Dec. 1 through Dec. 31.
Deer hunting with archery and crossbow equipment will be open under statewide regulations. OCORA will host two firearms quota deer hunts on Nov. 19-20 and Dec. 10-11, 2011. The park will be closed to all other activities during quota deer hunts and spring wild turkey season.
OCORA offers excellent stream fishing for smallmouth bass and rainbow trout. Once the area reopens to public use, anglers must possess a trout stamp to keep rainbow trout.
There will be a buffer zone created around Camp Piomingo – which will remain on the park grounds – and the campgrounds, Logsdon said. State officials are seeking requests for a private vendor to operate the camping facilities, with those requests due Dec. 15.
“This is a new venture for the Fish and Wildlife Department,” Marraccini said. “The department operates on the license fees paid to them by hunters and fishermen. We don’t receive any general tax funding. Our activities are funded by the folks who pay for their licenses.”
Marraccini said the department welcomes the various new users to the park – such as the disc golf players, horseback riders and the cliff climbers – but added that was one of the reasons they needed to improve the area.
“The park had been run for a number of years with tax revenues, but that is no longer the case,” he said.
While the main access road is in reasonably good shape, some side roads need repairs and improvements, Logsdon said.
“After two years, a lot of vegetation has encroached onto the side roads, but the main road is in good shape. The side roads are where the vegetation came in,” he said.
Repairs are also needed at the former park administration building, as the roof leaks and some eaves have rotted. Officials are in the process of acquiring necessary park maintenance equipment, since Metro Parks removed the materials there when they closed the facility.
“We have a number of wildlife facilities, so we should be able to scavenge some equipment around,” Marraccini said. “That will alleviate us from having to get all-new equipment. The equipment will get there,” he continued. “We also need to get the lease reworked first.”
Officials have signed an initial 20-year lease with the city of Louisville for the site. Final approval is expected after a site survey is completed.
Both Marraccini and Logsdon said no one has approached them about having special events at the park – such as the Lincoln Trail Power of the Past Antique Threshing Show – or the Halloween haunted forest event.
“The special events will be determined on a case-by-case basis, but right now we haven’t discussed any specific events,” Marraccini said. He indicated the Halloween event was conducted by a private vendor under a separate contract with Metro Parks and they haven’t been contacted by that person.
One of the park’s gems – the conference center along the Ohio River – will be renovated, officials said. It, too, suffered some deterioration – moreso in the last two years but even before that, – Marraccini alleged.
“We do plan to refurbish (the conference center),” he continued. “It’s going to take time and a significant amount of money.”
Marraccini hoped the center would be refurbished within the next year.
“Some of the cabins also deteriorated considerably,” Logsdon said. “The ones that are in good shape, we’ll renovate and use for our law enforcement cadet training program. It would be cost-prohibitive to try to rehabilitate all of them.”
Discussions are underway with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System to reopen the observatory, since some of the equipment is still usable. He didn’t know when that would reopen, adding there was a lot of other work ahead of that project.
Law enforcement services would be provided by Fish and Wildlife conservation officers, Marraccini said, but negotiations have not been held with area police departments to supplement those services.
“People need to understand this is a growing process for us as well,” Marraccini said. “This is a new avenue for us. We’re going to move ahead in phases and we don’t have those phases lined out yet.”