Craighead County officials hope to improve Bono Lake in 2017 without county funds

by George Jared ( 313 views 

Craighead County officially owns Bono Lake after spending almost $5 million to construct the recreational and flood control waterway, Judge Ed Hill told Talk Business & Politics.

The county has built a 1-mile chat covered road to the lake, but has received promises from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission that the road and the gravel parking lot will be covered with asphalt in 2017. AGFC can spend up to $100,000 in the county on any project it chooses, and Hill said he doesn’t think it will cost that much to overlay the road and parking lot, he said. AGFC will also build a fishing pier on the 75-acre lake, he said.

“It’s really shaping up out there,” Hill said. “It really looks good.”

There had been consternation as to which governmental entity would ultimately control the lake, located off Craighead County Road 361 near the town of Bono. AGFC relinquished its jurisdiction over the lake in late September. Plans are underway to construct a second road to the lake that will connect with Craighead County Road 333.

The Northeast Arkansas Bicycle Coalition has constructed up to five miles worth of trails around the lake, and has also constructed a pavilion. Hunters have been using the area around the lake to hunt, and the bikers try to coordinate their schedules to not interfere with the hunters, Hill said.

A lake was first proposed in the Bono area in the late 1990s after U.S. 63 from Hoxie/Walnut Ridge to Jonesboro was expanded. The flat, mostly row crop land is prone to floods, and NEA officials thought a 100-acre lake would be a tool to alleviate flooding in the region.

The lake would also serve as a recreational hot spot on the edge of the largest city in NEA. Officials envisioned a lake and surrounding area similar to Craighead Forest Park in Jonesboro. The problem was money. In 2007, residents overwhelmingly agreed to a 1/2-cent sales tax during the Christmas shopping season. The tax generated $3.5 million, according to the county. It was the seed money used to construct the lake.

The project was plagued for many years with cost overages, construction delays, and other problems. When Hill ran for county judge in 2010 he promised to get the project completed. During his re-election campaign this year, his opponent Jeff Presley, said the project was a drain on taxpayer dollars, and no more money should be poured into the project. Hill said he still supported the project and won his fourth term in November. His hope is to make improvements at the lake without using county taxpayer dollars to do it, he said.

The county hopes to receive grant money to hire a consultant to devise a 5-year master plan, and the goal is to make upgrades without the use of county taxpayer dollars in the coming years, he said.

“We don’t know how much it will cost to hire a consultant … we are in the preliminary planning stages,” Hill said.

County administrator Tony Thomas is writing a grant proposal to the Rockefeller Foundation seeking funds to hire a consultant. The proposal has to be tentatively approved by the foundation before a money amount will be discussed, Hill said.

A primary component in the master plan will be the construction of an equestrian trail. The judge’s office has received numerous requests to build an equestrian trail, and the closest one is in Wynne, meaning it could spark tourism in western Craighead County, Hill said. The county has also talked with Bono city officials and subdivision developers about a possible sidewalk from the nearby neighborhoods to the lake. A sidewalk would enhance property values and provide greater access to the lake and adjoining park. County officials have not developed estimates about how many people are utilizing the lake on a daily basis, officials said.

Fishing boats are allowed on the lake, and AFGC has constructed a concrete pier. Tree, bushes, and flowers still need to be planted near the lake. A playground and other amenities still need to be constructed, too, the judge said. But, the lake project is on the right track and the lake is now in use.

“Every time I go out there, I see people using the lake,” he said.