Efforts turn dream into reality

Efforts turn dream into reality
A combination of $120,000 of grant funding, and a refreshing partnership involving Clay County, the Clay County Park Board and the South Dakota Department of Game Fish and Parks is transforming Clay County Park.

A 20-year-old vision of reviving the beautiful campground area for residents and visitors alike has come to life, said Jeff VanMeeteren, regional park supervisor at Yankton's GF&P office.

Clay County Park, found along the winding banks of the Missouri River upstream from Vermillion, is a dream come true for several local folks.

The campground, nestled among a dense forest of tall, native cottonwood trees abounding in shade, is a local favorite of people who love the outdoors and the river.

During the 1950s and �60s, the land where the park is located was purchased with a vision to create a recreational complex. Ideas ranged from a campground to the construction of a marina basin off of the Missouri River. Some of the recreational concepts came to fruition and continue to thrive, while others, for one reason or another, never materialized.

Approximately 200 acres of property is owned by Clay County and managed by the local county park board. In addition to these lands, 120 acres of adjacent property is leased from the state GF&P, creating a large tract of land that hosts a variety of outdoor interests.

On the south end of the property, adjacent to the Missouri River, the GF&P maintains a popular two-lane boat ramp that is used year-round by fishermen, hunters and recreational boaters who love the river downstream of Gavins Point Dam.

The boat ramp has a large parking area for boaters, and nearby, a newly constructed picnic shelter gives visitors a picturesque view of the river and an idea of what the �wild river� looked like before the creation of the dams and the Missouri reservoir system.

In the late 1970s, a small campground area was constructed within a 120-acre dense forest of cottonwoods on the southern half of the property owned by the GF&P. A playground area and ball field were also constructed in the mid-�80s, but all three slowly faded away as similar developments were built in town.

In 1984, the campground area was leased to the county park board, and in the next two decades, time had taken its toll on the facility.

�I think it all started with the county�s dream to make it more than it was,� VanMeeteren said. �It was really, in all due respects, a park area that had no new development money going into it. The facilities were wearing out, basically, and nobody was replacing them. I think the county was trying its best to maintain the park, but it was falling apart faster than the county could maintain it.�

The GF&P and the park board met a few years ago to address the problem. �We both committed some money to fix it up right, and I think we came up with a pretty nice product,� VanMeeteren said.

A four-phase development plan was launched in 2003. Most of its goals have been reached. They included rebuilding the rodeo grounds by adding new bleachers and other facilities, replacing toilet facilities, constructing a picnic shelter, installing security lighting, providing electric power to 12 campsites and installing new Clay Rural Water lines.

Another major accomplishment is the construction of a bathroom facility with showers in the campground.

Projects that are awaiting completion include a new fish cleaning station by the boat parking lot, the construction of a multiple trail loop for horses, hikers and bicylists in the timber area, and the connecting the rodeo grounds to the river.

Bill Willroth Sr., president of the park board, foresees a day when campsites extend from the timber-laden property owned by the state all the way to the Missouri River.

�Actually, we have one of the best campgrounds in the state, and nobody knows it yet,� he said. �This has been a working thing with the state and the county commissioners. They�ve been behind us 100 percent.�

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