Volunteers working to return Cass County Park to the public

By John Dilmore

The process of restoring and returning to public use Cass County Park, which was damaged by heavy flooding last year, is playing out one project and one fundraiser at a time. 
Fortunately for those anxious to see the park’s facilities reopened, there is a dedicated group involved in the effort.
Friends of the Park has had to step up on behalf of the park before, as assistance was needed with facilities, equipment, etc. And, this isn’t the first time flooding has damaged the park.
But the efforts have been worth it, as Cass County Park is a vital part of the local recreational landscape. When the park’s closed, as it is now, something is missing.
“It’s a real family-oriented park,” said Frank Clayton, with Friends of the Park. “It’s a park where you can leave your trailer and somebody’s going to be watching it. A lot of local people go to this park, and so you know if you leave that park, your camper’s going to be all right because somebody’s going to be watching it. That’s one thing I like about it.”
In addition to camping, fishing and other park activities, Cass County Park is one of the few parks in the area that allows horses, Clayton said.
“A lot of people don’t know that,” he said. “But they bring horses in and we’ve got places where they can camp and tie their horses and stuff. There’s like 30 miles that’s around the park that they can ride their horses.”
But those and other activities have been on hold at the park since late last summer, when flood waters reported as high as 10-12 feet damaged the facilities. Clayton said the park was underwater for months, damaging the pavilion, fish cleaning station restrooms and other equipment.
Heavy rains took their toll. Waters were held in Wright Patman, Clayton said, to help keep areas in Louisiana from going under, which caused long term flooding of the park.
“We have a pavilion up there and it actually washed the tin off the pavilion,” he said. “That’s how deep it got. The bathrooms, it just completely washed … out on the ground. 
“The fish cleaning station, we had a pavilion that we had put up, lights and everything. It completely destroyed it. The fish cleaning tables are gone. It destroyed everything.”
The nonprofit Friends group reports to the county commissioners and county judge, and all parties plan to meet soon to evaluate where the repair efforts stand and determine next steps. The park land is leased from the Corps of Engineers, so many of the improvements made have to go through an approval process, which factors into the timeframe for getting the park open again.
“It’s just a process that we’ve got to go through,” Clayton said. “I know everyone is wanting to get the park open. I understand that. But there’s a process that we’ve got to go through before we can do it.”
Right now, installing a portable restroom facility, which will cost in the neighborhood of $5,000, is on the Friends’ radar.
A fishing tournament is normally held at the park in June, but it seems unlikely that facilities will be ready by then. “We’ve got our wagon loaded just getting the park open,” Clayton said.
But the park’s annual Fall Fest in October is a possibility.
Fundraisers like the one Friends of the Park held recently help move the process along. The Friends bought a Polaris Side-By-Side ATV and raised $18,000 on a drawing for the vehicle. Clayton emphasized that all money raised by the group goes back into the park.
He also expressed gratitude for the businesses and individuals who’ve helped the group along the way. Quality Building donated tin for the pavilion repairs, and ABC Auto Parts and Finish Line were heavily involved in the ATV giveaway fundraiser.
“That was a big deal,” Clayton said.
As the work continues, the Friends of the Park will continue to donate their time and resources to the effort. That’s what the group does, Clayton said: “Friends of the Park are nothing but a bunch of volunteers to help keep this park going.”
For more information on the Friends’ efforts, or to assist, contact Clayton at 903-559-1162.

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