By Heather Regula, Correspondent
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversees both Belton Dam and Lake Belton. The Miller Springs Nature Center, a well-loved recreation area in Central Texas, is located directly north of Miller Springs Park, on FM 2271. Inside of Temple city limits, it is home to miles of trails, varying terrain and many species of wildlife. For many years, Miller Springs Nature Center has attracted hikers, rock climbers, and nature enthusiasts of all ages. The Miller Springs Alliance, a non-profit volunteer group, took out a 25-year lease on the land in 1993.
“When the Nature Center was first created, it enjoyed considerable community support. The Miller Springs Alliance has been faced with declining membership and cannot maintain this land base,” explained Rene Berkhoudt, retired Federal Land Manager, and Miller Spring Alliance volunteer.
A lease on the Miller Springs Nature Center area requires the purchase of an insurance policy. In the absence of the insurance coverage, the gates must close. While sympathetic to the closing, the U.S. Corps of Engineers must follow policy.
Arthur Johnson has been a Park Ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for ten years.
“Miller Springs Alliance (MSA) decided to terminate their out-grant agreement with the U.S Army Corps of Engineers. We appreciate what MSA has accomplished the past 24 years at the Miller Springs Nature Center. MSA was unable to pay for liability insurance, which is a requirement and the main reason for closure,” explained Johnson. “USACE policy is that once the out-grant closes, it must stay closed until opened by another organization that can meet USACE requirements. USACE understands the Miller Springs Nature Center is cherished by the community and understands the concerns regarding the Miller Springs Alliance terminating the out-grant.”
The outpouring of community support since the closing announcement evidences the sincere desire by many to keep the Miller Springs Nature Center open and accessible. While there have been fundraising efforts and scant media coverage for Miller Springs Nature Center in the past, many people were unaware of the need for money and support.
Vanessa Duke, of Harker Heights, is one of these people.
“I was a military brat, and I moved around when I was younger, but I have spent a lot of time in this area. I graduated from Belton High School in 2008, and my mom still lives in Belton. I first visited Miller Springs when I was a senior in high school, and I went a few times that year. In recent years, I haven’t gone as often. My son is six, and I haven’t been to the Nature Center in awhile,” said Duke. “One of my friends shared on Facebook about Miller Springs Nature Center closing, and I was shocked. The news of the place closing made me realize that I took the area for granted – maybe I should’ve gone there more often, perhaps I should’ve known that they needed money and support. I read the comments that other people posted on Facebook, and realized that most of them feel the same way – if we had understood what the needs of the Miller Springs Nature Center, we would’ve taken steps to make it happen. Money, volunteers, whatever – we could’ve all pitched in to help.”
It was this realization that inspired Duke to start the Facebook group “Save Miller Springs Nature Center.” An online petition to keep the park open has gained thousands of signatures. Duke is optimistic that the involvement of people and various groups will lead to the reopening of Miller Springs Nature Center.
Non-profits and groups interested in negotiating a new lease on the Miller Springs Nature Center can contact the U.S Army Corps of Engineers at (254)742-3050.