Evicted Campers Move Across the Street
Jean Cruse misses the fun times she and her husband enjoyed the past 10 years at Rose Trail Park campground near Florence, Ala.
The couple leased a site at the picturesque campground in extreme western Colbert County along with 38 other families.
Since most of the lots were leased year after year by the same people, the campers became very close and the camping area became more like a community than a campground.
“They were very, very nice people,” Cruse said of her fellow campers. “We had big dinners together, cookouts, fishing. It was so much fun.”
But times change, the Florence Times Daily reported.
Where there once were rows of campers, some surrounded by decks and even screened-in porches, there are now just empty spaces in Rose Trail Park.
The last of the 39 sites was vacated a couple of weeks ago.
“They have all moved,” said Dwight Jefferies, who served as the park’s caretaker for the past 32 years. “It looks bare here now.”
The campers were forced to vacate the park after the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) notified the Colbert County Commission that the leases violated the 1971 grant agreement that helped develop the park.
Faced with being cut off from a lucrative source of grant money, the county was forced to act.
The campers were told that once their leases ended Sept. 30, they would have to remove the structures they built on their campsites and remove their trailers.
It looked like it would be the end of the inexpensive summer getaway spots so many people from Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee had enjoyed for so long.
Camper Comes Forward
Enter David Isom.
Isom, a Shoals business owner who also leased a lot at Rose Trail Park, was not so quick to give up what he and the others had enjoyed for so long.
Isom purchased some property along Riverton-Rose Trail across the street from Rose Trail Park and built the Friends of Riverton-Rose Trail Park Campground.
“I’m just trying to promote tourism,” Isom said. “All 39 (campsites) are filled, and I have a waiting list, and I’ve done no advertising.”
While the majority of the 39 sites at Rose Trail Park were leased to Alabama residents, primarily from the Shoals area, there were seven leased to Tennessee residents and 14 leased to Mississippians.
Isom said developing the Friends of Rose Trail Park campground helps keep those people in the area, along with the money they spend in Alabama.
“They buy groceries and they buy gas,” Isom said.
Isom said the Rose Trail Park environment was more than just a campground. It was more of a community because many of the people had been there for years and got to know each other. They fished together, ate meals together and enjoyed the quiet, rural setting.
While the county, at the direction of ADECA, eventually prohibited construction of additional structures such as porches, decks and covers at the old park, Isom said campers at the new park are welcome to enhance their sites.
Isom said water is provided in the lease agreement, but each campsite will have a separate electric meter. The septic tank system for wastewater is one of the “most up-to-date systems available.”
W.C. Horton is one of the longtime Rose Trail Park campers who moved across Riverton-Rose Trail to the new campground.
“We have moved, but it’s not like the old place,” Horton said.
He suspects he’ll get used to the new surroundings and the fact that the campers are closer to one another than they were at Rose Trail. After all, most of the same people who camped at Rose Trail moved to the new campground.
“We had a lot of shade over there,” Horton said. “It was beautiful. We’ll get it all straightened out.”
Horton said he leased a spot at Rose Trail Park for 11 years and enjoyed the togetherness that grew out of camping with the same people year after year.
Cruse said she and her husband, John, were one of the few families that decided not to move, but it was not because they did not like the new campground. “It was really nice of David to do that,” Cruse said.
Old Park to be Upgraded
As for the vacated Rose Trail Park, some improvements will have to take place before campers can return.
“We’ve got to upgrade everything,” Jefferies said.
He said the 20-amp electrical boxes will have to be replaced with new boxes that offer 30-amp and 50-amp power for larger recreational vehicles.
Colbert County Administrator Donna Llewellyn said ADECA and the Tennessee Valley Authority will require the electrical upgrades before the park can reopen in the spring.
Jefferies said the park closes during the winter and normally reopens in late March or early April after the threat of a hard freeze has passed.
Llewellyn said the upgrades are estimated to cost more than $50,000, which means bids must be solicited for the work.
Colbert County Engineer John Bedford said water service at the park will be returned to a master meter, one that measures the amount of water coming into the park rather than to individual campsites as had been the practice.
Bedford said campers in that section of the park would receive separate utility bills with charges for water and electricity.
“We’re trying to get it back to the original way it was set up,” Bedford said.
He said returning water and electricity to master meters means the county will pay the monthly water and electrical bills and attempt to recuperate its costs through campground revenue.
He said the county would likely lose some revenue under the new campground regulations that prohibit annual leases, but the amount will be “nothing that will set us back drastically.” The loss could be around $2,000 annually, he said.
“Part of it will be offset by David (Isom) opening the Friends of Riverton Rose Trail, but I don’t think we’ll ever break even,” Bedford said.