WASHINGTON — An Arkansas congressman is working to reopen overnight camping at Albert Pike Recreation Area.
On Thursday, Republican US Rep. Bruce Westerman introduced the Ouachita National Forest Overnight Camping Act.
“After the Forest Service’s decision to permanently suspend all overnight camping at Albert Pike, I have heard from countless constituents who expressed their disappointment and frustration at the decision,” Westerman said in a news release. “We must ensure Albert Pike is safely refitted to ensure the 2010 tragedy never occurs again, but it would be a disservice to the community to permanently ban overnight camping and deprive folks who return to Albert Pike year after year to share the experiences they had as children with their families.”
Albert Pike Recreation Area, situated in Ouachita National Forest in Langley, Ark., was closed after a major flash flood killed 20 people on June 11, 2010. In November 2020, the Forest Service initiated a planning process to determine which facilities and infrastructure would support the uses of APRA in the future. Under the Forest Service’s final decision, no overnight camping is permitted at Albert Pike.
Westerman’s bill would —
• require the Forest Service to reopen any campsites outside of the 100-year flood plain within 30 days of the bill’s enactment;
• identify areas within APRA that are suitable for overnight camping within six months; and
• develop at least 54 campsites, including at least eight with water and electric capabilities, outside of the 100-year flood plain within two years of the bill’s enactment.
Claire Nance, Westerman’s communications director, said the legislator’s plan would not require a new source of funding.
“This bill does not authorize any new funding, meaning the funds to rehabilitate and open Albert Pike Recreational Area would come out of existing recreation budgets,” Nance said to the Gazette. “We are working to gather support.”
The next step is to refer the bill to the Natural Resources Committee, of which Westerman is a ranking member.
“Normal procedure will entail a scheduling of a legislative hearing and markup,” Nance said. “If the bill does not move forward this Congress, Rep. Westerman will reintroduce in the next Congress.”
The Forest Service declined to comment for this article.
“USDA Forest Service can’t comment on pending legislation,” said E. Wade Muehlhof, deputy national press officer.
The 1.8 million-acre Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas and Oklahoma is a recreation destination. Albert Pike Recreation Area features hiking, swimming and other day uses.