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The district sued the county, arguing that it should not be able to abandon its membership or, if permitted to leave, it still was required to contribute money to support the park “in perpetuity.”

Two trips to Forrest County Chancery Court confirmed that state statute provided a process that any member county could follow to leave the district, and that the same statute limited a county’s financial liability to whatever obligations were owed or shared on the date the county announced its exit.

The latter ruling was appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court with a decision expected sometime this year.

The park, which had been reopened in late 2012, was closed again after the chancery court’s ruling.

That’s when Nettles approached the district and asked if they would be open to an arrangement to privatize the park.

Pat Harrison attorney Jolly Matthews said the district took six to nine months to consider whether it wanted to take that step.

“It’s new territory for us, which is why we took so long and proceeded very slowly,” he said.

Eventually, the district decided to advertise for bids.

“It wasn’t our preferred plan of action, but in light of everything that’s going on, our board of directors determined that this was the best thing at this time,” Matthews said.

The lease, which will be reviewed and renewed in 10-year increments, will pay the district about $100,000 annually.

“When you don’t have the support of your local supervisors, it makes it hard to provide the services to the citizens and taxpayers and maintain that property,” said Hiram Boone, Pat Harrison executive director. “This was a way to open the park back up.

“We’ll retain the rights. (They’re) just going to operate it.”

Jordan Nettles said he and his family have plans for major upgrades within the next year or so, including:

- Restocking of the lake and a smaller “perch pond.”

- Expansion of the beach and swimming area, including the installation of a splash pad and pool.

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