WASHINGTON — An Arkansas congressman is working to reopen night camping at the Albert Pike Recreation Area.
On Thursday, US Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman introduced the Ouachita National Forest Overnight Camping Act.
“Following the Forest Service’s decision to permanently suspend all overnight stays at Albert Pike, I have heard from countless constituents who have expressed their disappointment and frustration with the decision,” Westerman said in a press release. “We need to ensure Albert Pike is safely re-equipped to ensure the 2010 tragedy never happens again, but it would be a disservice to the community to permanently ban overnight camping and deprive people who, year after year return to Albert Pike to share their experiences children with their families.”
The Albert Pike Recreation Area in the 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 began a planning process to determine which facilities and infrastructure would support the use of APRA in the future. According to the Forest Service’s final decision, overnight camping is not permitted in Albert Pike.
Westerman’s bill would –
• Demand that the Forest Service reopen all campgrounds outside the 100-year flood plain within 30 days of the bill coming into force;
• identify areas within APRA suitable for overnight camping within six months; and
• Develop at least 54 campsites, including at least eight with water and electricity connections, outside the 100-year flood plain within two years of the bill’s entry into force.
Claire Nance, Westerman’s communications director, said the lawmaker’s plan would not require a new source of funding.
“This bill authorizes no new funding, meaning that funding to redevelop and open the Albert Pike Recreational Area would come from existing recreation budgets,” Nance told 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 senior member.
“The normal process will involve scheduling a hearing and mark-ups on legislation,” Nance said. “If the bill does not move forward in this Congress, Rep. Westerman will bring it back in the next Congress.”
The Forest Service declined to comment on this article.
“USDA Forest Service cannot comment on pending legislation,” said E. Wade Muehlhof, deputy national press secretary.
The 1.8 million acre Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas and Oklahoma is a recreation destination. The Albert Pike Recreation Area offers hiking, swimming and other day uses.
U.S. Representative Bruce Westerman, R-Ark.