- Associated Press - Sunday, January 26, 2014

LUMBERTON, Miss. (AP) - As a businessman, Paul Nettles hated to see the closure of what he considered a cog in the economic engine of Lamar County.

As an outdoorsman, the shuttering of Little Black Creek Water Park for the better part of a year took away a familiar spot just three miles from his home that he and family and friends had enjoyed for decades.

“What it is, we are business people in the community,” said Nettles, owner of Bad to the Bone restaurant and Pine Belt Services Inc. “We own businesses in Purvis and Lumberton, and by opening that back up, it will help Lamar County and our businesses as well, as well as other businesses by getting that influx of people, as well as the locals.

“But it’s such a beautiful place and so convenient to our house, we hated to see it close. We like to fish, like the outdoors. We’re outdoors people and hated to see it shut down.”

So, Nettles approached the park’s overseer, the Pat Harrison Waterway District, and pitched the idea of leasing the property from the state agency.

In December, the PHWD board of directors voted unanimously to award Nettles, his wife, Jane, and their son, Jordan, a 50-year lease on the 640-acre property located between Purvis and Lumberton.

The Nettles reopened the park immediately, renaming it Little Black Creek Campground and Park, and for the past few weeks, a crew of 10 has been on site, clearing accumulated debris, sprucing and repairing camping areas, refitting cabins and shower houses and re-grading boat ramps to the lake.

“They called and said, ‘Y’all have been awarded the bid, y’all can start doing cleanup as soon as possible,’” Paul Nettles said. “That was on a Thursday or Friday, and by that Monday, we had started cleaning up.

“I had people out there picking up limbs, cutting up trees that were dead and fell, blowing leaves, just cleanup.”

And people have started returning to the grounds, which are now open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“That’s what we want people to know,” Paul Nettles said. “We’re open, we’re excited about being the new proprietors, and we think we’re going to do quite well with this.”

Pat Harrison would like that as well.

The park, one of nine in the district, had been closed for long stretches since the Lamar County Board of Supervisors voted in September 2011 to withdraw as a Pat Harrison member.

The district said the loss of the county’s annual membership, about $390,000, caused a shortfall in its operating budget, forcing the closure of Little Black Creek Water Park from June 1, 2012, to Sept. 1, 2012.

The county, which received no revenue from the park and had no voice in its management, argued that its fee never had been earmarked specifically for the park’s operations and the district had sufficient funds in reserve to maintain the park.

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