After receiving unofficial information that Clark Center Park — a long-time favorite recreation area on Department of Energy property at Melton Hill Lake — may be closed, I called John Shewairy, assistant manager for administration at DOE’s Oak Ridge Office, and asked him about the situation.
Shewairy did not confirm the report, but he did acknowledge that the federal agency is evaluating its finances during these tough budget times and “making sure everything we’re doing is related to the Department of Energy missions.”
He also acknowledged that Clark Center Park, which reportedly costs DOE about $300,000 a year to maintain, is being evaluated as part of that ongoing budget review.
This, of course, isn’t the first time that management of the park – oftentimes referred to as Carbide Park, harkening back to the old days when Union Carbide was the government’s managing contractor — has become an issue. Over the years, DOE has periodically questioned whether it should be managing a recreation area (much like the ongoing AMSE debate about whether DOE should be in the museum business).
The 70-acre lakeside park includes a swimming area and boat launch, as well as picnic sites and ball fields.
“We constantly evaluate what we are doing with our budget as we carry out our responsibilities for the DOE Oak Ridge Reservation,” Shewairy said. “We have to ensure that our spending supports and advances the Department’s missions that are performed in Oak Ridge, and we’ll evaluate all areas in which we are currently expending funds.”
An eight-year-old boy died last month at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital after nearly drowning while swimming at the Oak Ridge site. it’s not clear if that is a factor in DOE’s current review.
Josh Collins, director of parks and recreation for the city of Oak Ridge, said he had not received any word about the possible closing of Clark Center Park. It’s not a city park, but he said the city sometimes refers people there for large picnics and other occasions because there’s no other park like it in Oak ridge.
Collins noted that if the DOE were to close the park, it could create an issue regarding access to the Gallaher Bend Greenway, which begins inside the park. Gallaher Bend is one of two city greenways that use old government patrol roads under a license agreement with DOE, he said.
Clark Center Park was closed temporarily last October when the budget crisis sparked by sequestration threatened the flow of funds to DOE’s Oak Ridge office.
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