U.S. Forest Service invites public comment on Recreation Fee Changes proposal

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — The U.S. Forest Service is inviting the public to participate in a 30-day comment period from May 1-31, on a proposal to change recreation fees across the Ouachita and Ozark-St. Francis National Forests.

The proposed changes will help to establish a consistent fee schedule for all recreation areas in the National Forests in Arkansas and Oklahoma and allow for continued operation and maintenance of existing facilities. The Ouachita and Ozark-St. Francis National Forests are proposing fee changes for Blanchard Springs Caverns, 24 camping areas, 6 day-use areas, and five cabin or resort rental opportunities.

“Updating our recreation fee structure is needed in order to align ourselves with other Federal and State recreation providers in our area who offer the same or similar amenities” said Ouachita Forest Recreation Staff Officer Chris Ham. “The operation and maintenance costs have exceeded our capacity to continue maintaining campgrounds and facilities to acceptable standards.”

Current pricing at National Forest sites have remained static for over a decade and not kept pace with other recreation sites providing similar services and amenities.   In addition, many sites have received various improvements and upgrades such as improved bathroom and shower facilities, upgraded campsites and new water systems. These fee changes are only proposed.  After public comment is received, the forest officials will assess the comments and concerns. The fee proposals will then be presented to the Southern Region Recreation Advisory (Recreation RAC) committee. The Recreation RAC is a citizen’s advisory committee that represents a broad array of recreational interests.  The Regional Forester will make a decision after receiving recommendations on the fee proposals from the committee. 

The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act of 2004 allows the Forest Service to keep 80 – 90 percent of fees collected at recreation sites to use locally in the operation, maintenance and improvements of these sites.

“Many of our recreation sites date back to the 1930’s,” Ozark-St. Francis Recreation Program Manager Robert Duggan. “We want to keep the architectural settings that distinctly reflect the Ozark culture, while modernizing features that our 21st century visitors are needing and requesting.  These fees will allow for those improvements to be made.”

A list of proposed fee changes can be viewed on either the Ouachita National Forest website at https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd578414.pdf or the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest at https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd578413.pdf.

For more information, or to provide comments about this fee proposal for the Regional Advisory Committee to consider, please contact Bill Jackson on the Ouachita at (501) 321-5253, or by email at r8_ouachita_recreation@fs.fed.us or contact Robert Duggan on the Ozark-St. Francis at (479) 964-7238, or by email at OSFNF_Rec_Comments@fs.fed.us.

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