Plans are in the works to update a longtime Gregg County-owned park as the man whose father is the namesake of the facility has raised concerns about its condition.
Hugh Camp served Pct. 3 on the Commissioners Court from 1945 until he died in 1977. Not long after his death, the court renamed a park in Liberty City as Hugh Camp Memorial Park, highlighting the Kilgore native’s years of public service.
Camp’s son, Frank “Bo” Camp, said his family has owned property in the area for more than 100 years. Camp, 88, has played at the park since he was 3. However, he said he’s seen the park deteriorate and turn into a “dump.”
“The park was manicured when my dad was commissioner ... they’ve let it just go to nothing,” Camp said of the county’s maintenance.
Poorly maintained walkways and crumbling retaining walls have him concerned about the lack of upkeep. He mentioned a basin house that had a spring flow into it where residents would collect water. The house is now overgrown and sits on the other side of a fence surrounding the park.
Several of the bridge railings at the park are rusted, along with playground equipment that appears aged.
Camp said his main concern was several piles of RAP (recycled asphalt material) and concrete placed near the entrance of the park. He said the piles made the park look like a dump yard and feared the debris could fall into a creek that runs through the park and eventually flow into the Sabine River.
Since voicing his concerns, all but one of the piles has been removed to be used for its original purpose — addressing drainage issues.
Pct. 3 Commissioner Floyd Wingo said the piles of RAP were being used as fill for a gulley in the park. After the fill, he plans to plant grass and possibly trees over it to create more usable surface area, he said.
According to Wingo, water erosion has caused drainage issues.
“When it rains, the creek swells causing erosion. That’s the big problem,” he said. “All the dirt’s coming out from the retaining wall due to the water ... the walls can slide down or fall off into the creek bed.”
Wingo added that shortly after entering office two years ago, he had a survey done on the park to make sure the county was in compliance. Findings from the survey showed the basin house that Camp mentioned is on private property, he said.
A fence now marks county property lines, which the house sits outside of, he explained.
“I completely understand that there are issues with Hugh Camp Park, and we are dealing with them as fast as we can,” he said.
Wingo estimates that about $250,000 has been invested into the park during the past four to five years.
County Judge Bill Stoudt echoed Wingo and added that neither the commissioner nor the county has neglected the park.
“There’s stuff to be done, but you gotta take it a bit at a time,” Stoudt said.
In 2019, crews started work to install a synthetic surfacing at the park to improve safety in the play area. Former Pct. 3 Commissioner Gary Boyd estimated at the time that the county had spent about $300,000 on the park since he took office in 2010.
At the time, Boyd described the planned updates as “putting a new swing set in, because we had some old play equipment which rusted and screwed us up. ... And then inside this play area where the slide and climbing boards are, we’re going to install some slide-protected base in there.”
Wingo aims to continue improvements and is in the process of applying for a $150,000 grant to install a culvert to assist with drainage, among other upgrades, he said. The grant he’s trying to secure would require an-kind match of $150,000 that he said would be paid for through the manpower and equipment usage needed to install the culvert.
The ultimate goal with improvements is to create more usable surface area, he said.
“There are other things that we would love to do out there to make the park a better place to visit and a better place for kids to play, (but) it takes time, money and effort,” he said.
If the grant is approved and the culvert installed, the dirt level and fence line will have to be raised to meet the rest of the lower level, he said. Additionally, two cement boxes known as “cleanouts” would be created for crews to be able to enter and clean out the culvert if it became packed with debris, he said. The retaining wall also would have to be be taken out.
Aside from adding more usable surface area for potential playground equipment, the upgrades also would make the park safer, he said.
“There are some metal bridges that have been put in there that are starting to deteriorate. Instead of taking a chance, it would be a big benefit ... to us as a county to keep people safe,” he said.
County workers clean the public restrooms daily, he added, and Dumpsters and trash cans are emptied and playground equipment inspected regularly.
“We’re doing everything we can to take care of it, and it just takes time and funding,” he said.
Hugh Camp Memorial Park is at 5716 Old Hwy 135 N.