‘Rough waters’ don’t hinder marina’s success at Fishtrap

Visitors to East Kentucky Marina enjoy the Waves Water Park during a sunny July day. The local owners of the business say the response by those coming to enjoy the attractions there has been great, but that the response from a local agency has caused the opening process to be more difficult than expected.

During a recent meeting of the Pike Fiscal Court, the owners of the East Kentucky Marina and Waterpark presented the court with an update regarding the couple’s progress, as they continue to work towards their goal of turning the area into “a tourist destination.” However, it has not all been smooth sailing for the new owners as they have experienced a patch of rough waters along the way.

James and Tereshia Thomas became owners of the marina in April and, since the couple took over ownership, serious changes have occurred to the area as they have worked to utilize the “beauty that has been hidden all these years,” while also employing 28 full-time employees in the area.

“When we were approached about the marina, the first thing we did was start thinking outside the box,” said Tereshia. “We wanted to turn this marina, which had basically been neglected over the years, into something that fishermen in the area could enjoy, but also we wanted this area to be able to help bring in tourism for this area.”

Among the changes was the installation of the Waves Water Park, as well as the Landslide area, which are inflatable attractions that the two hoped would draw residents from not only Pike County but surrounding areas, into to the marina to get out of the house and have something to enjoy in the outdoors.

“Having three kids of our own, we honestly got tired of having to take our kids out of state for things that we could easily do in this area,” she said. “So our main goal since opening was mainly to allow families in our area to get out of the house and be able to take their kids on a mini-vacation, or even a vacation in general because there are a lot of people in our area that can’t take their kids out of state to enjoy things.”

According to both James and Tereshia, the Waves waterpark and Landslide area are their way of showing the area, “hey, we are making changes,” but the two said they have no plans on stopping and will continue to try and make improvements every day.  

“We want this area to be a tourist destination, not only for our area that only we can utilize, but we want it to be a tourist destination nationwide,” Tereshia said.

According to the two, they experienced some problems with the Pike County Health Department regarding regulations dealing with the waterpark that the two said started in March, before the waterpark had even been purchased.

“We were basically just trying to get everything in line before we had an announcement for our opening,” Tereshia said. “By this point, we knew going into it that our pre-date of May 31 just wasn’t going to happen.”

According to James, the lease with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers states that if their federal regulations don’t cover a safety or health concern, that a state or local regulation does, something the two thought to take with them when they met with the health department in March. During the meeting they were informed by an inspector for the health department that it was not an issue under their jurisdiction and that the couple could go forward under whatever federal regulations they had.

The two said they again met with the same inspector in May, just to double-check for any regulations they may need to be made aware of before they announced the opening of their Waves waterpark.

“Again, nothing was to be done,” Tereshia said.

According to her, the two had several discussions with the inspector from the health department, even inquiring about possibly opening a campground. The inspector actually brought a stack papers regarding campground regulations to their park at the marina, and, again, no problems were mentioned. However, on July 17, Tereshia said, she received a text from the same inspector, who stated that he had spoken to the state and the couple must shut down the park until a permit is acquired. They said that had never once been brought up throughout their constant contact, with the exception of a brief mention during their May meeting, at which time they were informed they did not need the permit.

After receiving the text, she said, they immediately called the inspector and asked for information regarding why they were required to close down, or what they needed to do in order to obtain the permit in question, and according to her, the only explanation they were given was, “because I said so.”

“That’s not how business is done or should be handled,” Theresia said. “So after that, we went and met with the Corps, who said they have never experienced anything like this before and unfortunately we were back at square one.”

James and Theresia said that the inspector informed not only them, but others in the community that he was going to close the park down due to unsafe water regulations, despite the Corps being required to test the water quality already and it being “100 percent safe,” James said.

“It was disheartening that some people were having to call us or come to us and ask if we were open or being like ‘hey I thought you guys were closed because of some flesh eating bacteria in the lake.’ As you guys know, once things like that spread, it just continues to escalate and escalate.”

James and Tereshia said they were informed by the inspector that they were going to be made an example out of and then after they were closed down, the county campground was next, something Dist. 2 Commissioner Ronnie Robertson confirmed, as he said he had received a call from the operator of the campground stating that he was threatened to by the same inspector.  

Pike Judge-Executive Ray Jones said the park is a substantial investment made by local residents, who are trying to make the county better.

“We expect everyone to abide by the rules, but we also expect government agencies to do their part to make sure to help foster growth as opposed to hindering it,” Jones said.

Pike Deputy Judge-Executive Reggie Hickman, who serves on the health department board said it would be his hope that inspectors, no matter what they’re doing out there, would find solutions, regardless of the situation.

“If something is wrong, be transparent, be up front, state what the problems are and why they’re there so to work with business people, as well as home owners to find solutions,” Hickman said.

Despite the run-around and the spread of misinformation, James and Tereshia were able to re-open, only after the state health department became involved and helped properly inform the two of everything needed to be done. The two said it took a total of three days to get the permit needed, something they wish they would have been informed of back in March during their first meeting with the health department. And in spite of the initial setbacks, they experienced, the two said business is still booming.

Since opening both inflatable attractions on June 29, the couple has seen a huge upswing in traffic throughout the area and, according to a recent traffic count done by the Corps, 27,000 more people have come to the lake this year than in 2018. Jones said that is “amazing.”

According to Tereshia, those numbers began climbing all the way back in May when the two first took over ownership, something she said had to stem purely from the curiosity of people in the area, as she said people would just show up and watch the work being done to get the park ready.

“Getting the waterpark ready in general was comical,” she said. “But people would come up to us and pretty much thank us, which kind of threw us back, but they were just excited to see something coming into the area.

But, like I said, this is basically just our start,” she added.

With summer coming to close, the two have already begun brainstorming for the upcoming seasons, alluding to a possible fall fair, as well as a winter wonderland.

For more information as well as hours of operation, visit the East Kentucky Marina Facebook page.

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