An article by James Jackson in The Sun Times on June 28 sets out in detail a meeting of County Judge Jerry Holmes with local real estate leaders about his efforts to revive the plan to build a water garden in Cleburne County. Holmes made it clear this was not a Wild River Country type theme park and said one of the hardest things to do in reviving the project was finding and retrieving the information on the original designs and plans from various archives and institutions.
Holmes discussed the plan of Herbert Thomas and Senator Fulbright to build a water garden similar to the Tivoli Gardens in Italy which would encompass 549 acres and cost $20 million which plan the Corps of Engineers turned down. President Kennedy supported a plan to build a water garden while in Arkansas for the dedication of Greer’s Ferry Dam and after his death the plan was submitted to President Johnson who referred it to the National Park Service who turned it down.
To gain support of the plan to build the water garden Holmes has written letters to and met with local, state and federal elected officials, Republicans and Democrats, who are fully behind the plan. At a meeting in Washington the Arkansas Congressional leaders pledged their support for the plan and agreed to help find funding.
Holmes met, with the National Park Service, Corps of Engineers, Arkansas Natural Resources, Arkansas Parks & Tourism, and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission who were all behind the plan except the Corps of Engineers.
Holmes urged all those at the meeting “to contact their representatives and other government leaders to show their support for the project” which he said would cost somewhere in the area of $100 million and would encompass around 30 acres.
To most folks in Cleburne County $100 million is a great amount of money, $4,000.00 for every man woman and child. Building a $100 million water park would be the largest project in the history of Cleburne County. That would be twice the amount of money required to build Greers Ferry Dam ($46.5 million) and more than ten times the cost of building the Community Center ($9.3 million.
Before deciding to support or oppose spending $100 million to build a water park it would appear prudent to carefully study (1) the water garden plan and the cost estimates (2) who will provide the $100 million to build the water garden—taxpayers or private donations (3) the reports of the National Park Services and the Corps of Engineers setting out their reasons for opposing a water park (4) any studies of the impact this water garden would have on the economy of Cleburne County (5) how the water park will improve the quality of life for most of the people in Cleburne County especially the 13.10% living below the poverty level, 17.10% of which are under age 18. (6) the sponsors of the water garden and what individuals or groups would gain the most financially if the water garden were built.
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Citizens of Cleburne County have elected many Republicans to local, state and federal offices on their promise, which all Republicans have been repeating for 100 years--lower taxes and less government. Is it accurate to describe elected officials who would spend $100 million of taxpayer dollars to build a water garden as Republicans or should they be described as “liberal” “tax and spend” Democrats dressed in RINO (Republican In Name Only) clothing?
(Paul Rawlings of Heber Springs contributes monthly to the editorial pages of The Sun-Times)