WASHINGTON D.C. – U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman has introduced a bill that would re-open Albert Pike Recreation Area to overnight camping. The “Ouachita National Forest Overnight Camping Act” was introduced September 29 of this year.
In a press release posted recently Congressman Westerman reported that the 1.8 million-acre Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas and Oklahoma is a recreation destination to hundreds of thousands of people annually. He added that the Albert Pike Recreation Area is one of the most popular sites within the Ouachita National Forest. The recreation area features hiking, fishing and swimming.
The development of Albert Pike Recreation Area located just inside the borders of Montgomery County near Langley began in 1934. Overnight camping at the recreation area has been a major source of tourism in the area for decades.
Albert Pike Recreation Area (APRA) was closed after a major flash flood tragically killed 20 people on June 11, 2010. APRA has remained closed to overnight camping since the flash flood in 2010.
Congressman Westerman held a town hall style meeting in Glenwood in 2019 to hear public opinion on the possibility of re-opening APRA to overnight camping. There was a mixed response with some residents of the area and families of victims of the flood seeking to keep it closed to overnight camping. However, the majority of the comments from those in attendance were in favor of some kind of overnight camping returning to the area.
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 would be permitted in APRA.
“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,” said Westerman. «Albert Pike has been enjoyed by families from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas for generations. 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. I look forward to working with the U.S. Forest Service to allow for safe and responsible usage for years to come.»
The Ouachita National Forest Overnight Camping Act would require the Forest Service to re-open any campsites outside of the 100-year flood plain within 30 days of the bill’s enactment.
All four former overnight camping areas in APRA were located in the 100 year flood plain and would not be reopened by the proposed bill if passed.
The bill would also require the Forest Service to identify areas within APRA that are suitable for overnight camping within six months of its enactment.
The bill would also require the Forest Service to develop at least 54 campsites outside the 100 year flood plain within two years of the bill’s enactment. This would include at least eight campsites equipped with water and electric capabilities.