The Scenic Rivers Development Alliance’s first year managing the Quail Hollow golf course was a good one: For the first time in a decade, the course will not lose money.
Joseph Parker, the Scenic Rivers director, gave the McComb Rotary Club an update on the agency’s recreational management Wednesday. He also defended a tax hike Pike County supervisors approved for Scenic Rivers.
Parker noted that all five counties in the alliance — Pike, Amite, Walthall, Franklin and Wilkinson, plus the city of McComb — have lost population since the 2010 census. He compared that with other areas of the state, such as Tupelo and Hattiesburg, that have regional development agreements and are growing.
A regional alliance may not be the only reason those areas are growing, he added, but it can’t hurt. Also, state officials in Jackson have encouraged leaders in Southwest Mississippi to work together when seeking assistance.
Pike County was putting $165,000 a year into Scenic Rivers, but supervisors agreed to increase that in the coming year to $285,000.
The increase will add nearly half a mill to property taxes and is part of the county’s 1.84-mill increase.
Parker said the alliance is asking each county to contribute 1 mill worth of revenue, and other members are considering it.
Parker said the investment of extra tax dollars is needed, and so far, the county’s contributions have produced results.
Scenic Rivers has received $3.3 million in grants and loans for projects in Pike County — much more than the county has contributed. Other counties have received another $1 million.
He called Quail Hollow “a huge success story.” It was losing more than $300,000 a year and the state planned to close it until Scenic Rivers stepped in to manage the course.
The agency’s fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and Parker said the course will produce a $20,000 to $40,000 profit for the current 12 months. The extra cash has paid for some badly-needed repairs at the Percy Quin State Park property.
Scenic Rivers also manages the Bogue Chitto Water Park. Parker said the site still needs more upgrades, but finances are improving.
The water park was losing $60,000 a year before Scenic Rivers got involved, and he estimated this year’s loss will be reduced to $30,000.
Another project that could dwarf everything else Scenic Rivers is doing is the proposed hotel and convention center at Lake Okhissa in Franklin County. Parker said anything that happens there remains a long way off. A feasibility study has been approved.
He also said there have been “very positive conversations with some officials” about Lincoln County joining Scenic Rivers. He said business leaders there noticed when Scenic Rivers got some bond money from the state, and are interested in doing what they can to help the area grow.
James Wicker, a member of the Pike County Economic Development District board of directors, introduced Parker by encouraging club members to get involved in activities that build up the community.
“I believe that this area, including McComb, has a lot to offer,” Wicker said — both for current residents and others who might consider moving here. He added that past generations left the area in good shape, so the question is what legacy current leaders leave.
Good things, Wicker said, “will never happen if we don’t believe that it will, or don’t have the faith to start. ... We must develop the attitude that we are not going to lose our community without a fight.”