Friday, November 12, 2010

Road Closed – Fences And Gates Sprout As Population Grows

Lake Whitney - The fences started to go up during a mid-term budget crunch in mid-decade of the new millenium.

As federal funds to police and maintain lakeside parks at Army Corps of Engineers projects nationwide dried up, managers were asked to target certain problem areas where they could get by with less than complete access by the public.

Places where people fought and bled, drank to excess and trespassed on adjacent private properties, or littered and made themselves obnoxious while blowing off weekend steam were suddenly barricaded, gates thrown up and padlocked. Law enforcement types federal, state and local became intractable and adamantine, where before they had been tolerant and understanding, easy to talk out of an expensive federal summons to U.S. Magistrate's Court, or willing to let offenders go with a warning and some gentle admonishment to cool it, hit the road. Go home.

Prosecution for drunk driving and other objectionable behavior became routine. Some of the more recalcitrant found themselves potentially penitentiary-bound while others sat out long and expensive periods on probation.

Suddenly, folks were reminded that the big rivers and major creek systems dammed and managed by the Army's hydrologists are actually an integral part of the nation's critical defense infrastructure.

The nation was at war and “Let's roll” was the watchword, something in which it was best to believe, a bright and shining concept with the hard luster of a diamond, a nation united to defend itself against all comers and bad actors. Drunks, brawlers, litter bugs and loud fools need not apply under the new doctrine.

Camping out for a weekend or as long as a week anywhere one chose to pitch a tent was as out of date as button hooks and churns.

Camping in designated areas defined by knee-high fences wrought with rusty old drill pipe became available by reservation only.

Some of the first gates went up here on the spectacular bluffs overlooking picturesque limestone cliffs and craggy coves affording expensive views to affluent property owners at Walling Bend Park on the Bosque side of the lake. It's a superb place for young men and women to prove themselves insouciant and possessed with nerves of steel by diving headlong into the deep waters below. Risky business, fueled by testosterone, adrenaline and alcohol, it became a real issue in a nation suddenly dispossessed of its previous sense of humor.

“We targeted that rowdy park,” said Mr. Brady Dempsey, Lake Manager for the Corps of Engineers. It takes a lot of resources to keep people safe and the park clean. He and his staff found a significant place to cut the budget by investing in the services of a welder and erecting a swinging knee-high gate and padlock.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease; however, in this case, the new lubrication didn't work to reduce the friction by much. The rowdies squawked and their message was received loud and clear - nationwide.

The sense of outrage was instantaneous and pronounced. People spoke up, made inquiries, voiced demands – raised hell.

At a town hall meeting going into those midterm elections so long in the past, incumbent 17th District Congressman Chet Edwards heard the complaints and took heed.

He was fresh from a brutal redistricting session of the newly-Republican Texas Legislature that left him without a major portion of his base – the Ft. Hood area of Bell County where he cut his political eye teeth as a staffer for the venerated Democrat, Representative Olin E. “Tiger” Teague.

It was a core experience that defined his career, his influence chiefly felt in veterans affairs and water resources management committee assignments where he has vast subject matter expertise and major seniority.

Thus gerrymandered, he was at pains to find needs and fill them in his newly defined and crisply altered district.

He was quick to propose meetings with Corps of Engineers law enforcement staff and management, coordination with DPS troopers and local law enforcement.

He and other Congressmen throughout the states west of the Mississippi, where water management is under the control of the Corps of Engineers, found the needed funds in the padding of a tighter budget, according to Mr. Dempsey.

The gates remained open, the parks policed and maintained by a staff of maintenance workers and rangers. People were satisfied to see that, though their access was newly defined and more tightly controlled, they could still enjoy their lake in ways similar to the ways they always had.

As population density has grown, there are still other key issues that have remained to rankle those concerned with a changing landscape as it affects their world.

It came back to haunt Chet Edwards in small ways at the polls, though, according to his campaign manager, Alex Youn, “Nothing much would have helped...” in the face of the massive conservative rejection of all Democratic candidates.

Conservative Republican businessman Bill Flores defeated by 10-term veteran of the Hill by a factor of 60/40%, the same as others throughout the state and the nation at large.

It was all part of an extreme reaction against the “Obama-Pelosi agenda,” code for an abhorrence of a perceived trend toward an increasingly restrictive nanny state tightly controlled by bureaucrats and police officers of all types.

Private property owners in more remote areas found new leverage in the tightened restrictions. Some were unsatisfied, chafing under the new restrictions, especially in the area of that all-important bastion, the ritual of the deer, dove and turkey hunt going into the harvest feast season of Thanksgiving.

Where four-wheelers had previously been allowed to have right of way on privately owned and maintained roads, then pass onto the Corps' property and drive on the primitive “Corps Road” that skirts the lake, their access was blocked. There is no driving allowed. What's more, there is no parking on privately owned access roads where the Corps cannot set aside an easement for a parking lot.

You can walk, but you can't leave your vehicle behind in many of the choice spots where hikers or hunters could previously stroll through gates or drive.

What about handicapped users? Disabled veterans missing limbs, crippled children or even wheelchair-bound people can go on supervised deer hunts each year for a couple of weeks prior to the regular season through the cooperation of fish and game wardens and Corps of Engineers Park Rangers.

“We even field dress the deer for them,” says Mr. Dempsey.

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