Hammond Campground hit by vandalism, possibly delaying opening

District wilderness manager Johnathan Rhodes, left, and Youth Conservation Corps crew leader David Paul work to repair a gate at the North Fork Recreation Area that was damaged by unknown vandals last week. The recreation area, known locally as Hammond Camp, is off CC Highway south of Dora.

Within 24 hours of paving the day-use area at Hammond Camp, fresh asphalt was marred with graffiti last week. Local and Forest Service law enforcement officers are investigating. The crime could be prosecuted as a federal misdemeanor or felony.

**UPDATE: The Mark Twain National Forest has just announced that the North Fork Recreation Area/Hammond will reopen the campground and new water play area starting Friday, June 7. Canoe and kayak users can use the area to launch boats until the new launch site, located upstream near the bridge, is completed.

Ozark County and U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers are investigating damage and vandalism at the North Fork Recreation Area on the North Fork of the White River in the Mark Twain National Forest near Dora. The public campground and river access off CC Highway, known locally as Hammond Campground, is currently closed while repairs and improvements are made, including repaving the day-use area and also building two river-access ramps, one for loading and unloading boats, and the other for swimming and “water play.” 

The vandalism and property destruction were discovered last week by Ava/Cassville/Willow Springs Ranger District employees who found graffiti spray-painted onto newly paved asphalt and other “harassing information” posted around the recreation area, according to a MTNF news release. Gates within the recreation area were also damaged. 

The ranger district employees quickly began repairs, the announcement says, and Forest Service and Ozark County law enforcement officers have increased patrols in the area.

MTNF spokesman Cody Norris told the Timesin an email Monday that the person or persons who committed the damage could be prosecuted under federal law for either a misdemeanor or felony for damage to government property, depending on the cost of the repairs. “If we have to completely replace a gate, it could cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000,” Norris said, adding that “the threshold for a federal felony is $1,000. A repair to a gate could meet this threshold, depending on how much time and material it took to fix the gate.” Norris said Forest Service personnel “appreciate the public’s patience” with the long-delayed project, which was first initiated in May 2015 but “has experienced several unforeseen setbacks to its original timeline,” the MTNF announcement says. “The 2017 flood put the project behind schedule; and it resulted in contract design changes and reprioritizing work to be completed first in the day-use area of the site.  Weather this past winter and spring also delayed construction efforts.”

The Forest Service’s goal is to “open up the original day-use area during the 2019 season, which is expected to happen soon,” according to the news release.

The vandals struck within 24 hours after paving was completed in the day-use area last week, spraying graffiti on the new asphalt surface.  

Work remaining to be done in the day-use area includes letting the asphalt cure, striping lanes and parking areas, and installing traffic-control devices. A timeline for completing the work hasn’t been set due to the dependence on good weather, “but efforts will continue to be made to get as much done as quickly as possible,” the news release said, adding that District Ranger Cody Lunsford “has been keeping outfitters and guides, county officials and other elected officials apprised on progress of the project.”

Additional instances of vandalism could impact the current efforts to open the site, resulting in more delays, the announcement said.    

The ranger district will provide updates on the Mark Twain National Forest website and Facebook page. Those with questions – or anyone with information about this or other illegal activities at the North Fork Recreation Area – are asked to contact District Ranger Lunsford at 417-683-4428 orcody.lunsford@usda.gov

Ozark County Times

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